Balancing good mental health and final exam preparations

Maintaining a good sleep schedule is an important way to keep good mental health during finals. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

Final exams are looming and many students can be seen catching a few minutes of sleep in some of campus’ hidden corners before they get back to studying.

But by stressing and not getting enough sleep in preparation for their tests, students are putting their mental health at risk, according to Heather Walders, a health learning facilitator and assistant vice president of USF Wellness.

“Maintaining good sleep, hygiene, nutrition, balanced interests, scheduled downtime and exercise,” Walders said in and email to The Oracle. “Building resilience, the ability to bounce back from stressful situations, is important for longevity in the higher education environment. The more skills and flexibility a student can develop to tolerate distress, the more likely they will succeed all year round.”

Walders said it is not uncommon for students to get more stressed around exam times. She also said the on-campus counseling centers see the biggest jump in appointment requests around mid-September during the fall semester. Walders said the appointments gradually grow until November, where they once again peak and continue to do so until after finals.

“Typically, too, final exams and final projects come due all at once, whereas other means of evaluation are typically spread out over several weeks,” Walders said. “Finally, by mid to late semester, students are aware whether their grade is at risk and may feel increased pressure to perform well if the less weighted assignments have not earned scores necessary to maintain a passing grade.”

However, students are not the only ones who can work to combat stress and poor mental health during exam times. According to Walders, professors can help with the issue too.

Aside from preparing for their tests, Walders said professors should also promote positive self-care habits to their students.

“Providing uplifting messaging with their reviews and study materials can make a big difference,” Walders said. “In addition encouraging good self-care habits and optimism with goal setting.

“It also seems important for professors to acknowledge that high-stakes exams, such as cumulative final exams and exams worth a significant portion of a student’s final grade, can and do result in increased stress and may not provide students the opportunity to adequately demonstrate what they have learned over the course of a semester.”

Walders said the resources available to students during testing times are the same ones available year round. She added that the resources available for keeping students’ mental health in good standing go beyond counseling sessions as well.

“…The Counseling Center offers various drop-in groups, on-call crisis services, and individual counseling, the Success and Wellness Coaches provide free personal coaching,” Walders said. “In addition, Campus Rec provides indoor and outdoor exercise opportunities like trips, classes and special events. Student Wellness has satellite facilities with massage chairs, sleep packs and fresh fruit. The Center for Student Well-Being provides a lot of programming focused on self-care during midterms and finals.”

According to Walders, self-care is key, and not just around exam time.

“By engaging in good self-care year-round students are more likely to improve their baseline functioning and build their capacity for resiliency during times of anxiety and stress such as final exams,” Walders said.