Q&A with Maria Pascucci, Founder & President, Campus Calm
Q: What can students do to increase their concentration and focus to calm anxiety during finals week?
Maria: Eat healthy, whole foods and drink plenty of water to keep energy levels up and your brain functioning at peak capacity to calm anxiety during finals week.
Consider snacking on fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Mom may be a pain sometimes but she’s right: A fruit smoothie or salad will help you concentrate far better than any candy bar or sugary energy drink ever could!
Take short breaks every 30 minutes to retain information better. Cramming doesn’t lead to retention of information; it just leads to exhaustion and increased anxiety during finals week.
Study with a buddy. If you’re lucky to have a friend who can help you study without getting sidetracked, partner up. Quiz each other every 20 minutes or so. Talk your way through difficult subject matter. Motivate each other to take those short breaks so you can refresh, recharge and retain what you’re studying. Be each other’s voice of reason so you don’t drown in a sea of pressure.
This is what I would remind my younger self of during periods of heightened anxiety during finals week: If you view your high school and college experience as a way to develop your unique skills and find out what makes YOU happy in life, and not just as a way to build your success portfolio, a grade becomes exactly what it’s supposed to be: a measure of your knowledge in a particular subject—not a way to gauge your self-worth.
Bottom line: Never forget that you are more than a test score.
Q: Is there any quick advice for shutting off the feelings of “I’m so overwhelmed” and “I can’t do this”—for example, in the middle of a study session? How can you calm yourself down and relieve anxiety during finals week?
Maria: If you find yourself in meltdown mode during a study session:
Focus inward to observe your thoughts. What are you saying to yourself? Is your inner perfectionist talking smack and giving it to you good?
Once you observe your thoughts and determine that they are leading you to a very unhealthy place, you can choose to immediately say, “STOP” out loud (unless you’re in the middle of a crowded library!)
Consider asking yourself, “What’s another way to look at this?” “What part of me is talking right now–my inner critic or my higher self?” “What is really the truth here?” “Is one grade REALLY going to make or break my entire life?”
Consider saying out loud in a calming tone so you can hear yourself: “You can do this. You’re strong, and smart and I believe in you. Just concentrate on one thing at a time.”
When you begin studying again, try to focus your full attention on what you’re learning. Choose to get curious. Try not to focus your attention on the resulting grade you hope to get on the exam. Just focus on soaking up new knowledge.
Take four or five very deep breaths and continue focusing on your body’s sensations.
If you notice any fear-based thoughts creeping back up, challenge them by saying, “Where did this thought come from?” “What would be different if I chose to let that thought go?” “What would be a more empowering thought I can choose to focus on right now?”
Remember: No single test score or semester grade can define you or validate your potential for success. You validate you. You choose to believe that you’re talented, beautiful, creative and intelligent and then you go out there and make things happen!
Begin where you are and remember that each time you take steps to release your inner critic by gently challenging his/her “catastrophizing” thoughts, you’re moving a step closer toward a loving relationship with yourself, and it will get easier each time you work at it.
Q: How can we help students understand the importance of sleep to calm anxiety during finals week? Is it more important than cramming?
Maria: This is what I wish I could tell my younger self: Sleep is a necessity. It is not a luxury that’s meant to be earned.
According to the latest available figures from the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, stress, anxiety and sleep difficulties are the top three life issues that students say affects their academic performance.
As someone who experienced my own fair share of sleep difficulties while in college, I can tell you that cramming and pulling all-nighters may seem like a good idea in the short-term, but in actuality, it’s a recipe for stress and anxiety, which can compromise your health, and your college experience.
If you do prioritize sleep into your schedule, but you find yourself too stressed out to fall asleep or stay asleep, click here for my ideas and suggestions.
Bottom line: Sleep saves time. When you’re energized during the day, you can retain more information during study sessions in less time than – say – if you’re stumbling around campus at 2 o’clock in the afternoon in pursuit of your third cup of joe from Starbucks. Think of the money you will save in coffee costs too!
Words to remember:
Success starts with self-love. Love yourself by giving your body the rest that it needs. Your body will love you right back by giving you more energy, strength and endurance to perform during exam time, every time!
How do you keep calm and manage the pressure and anxiety during finals week? Leave me a comment below!