Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

WELLNESS PERSONALIS | Coping With Finals Season Stress

Welcome back to campus, Hoyas! It’s officially that time of year at Georgetown — time to finish up your classes and work hard to complete the five projects and exams your professors managed to schedule for those last few days. Once we walk out of that final class on Tuesday, however, a new challenge arises: finals. As finals season rapidly approaches — and after finals season, another break — I want to talk about wellness. How can we maintain a sense of well-being and finish the fall semester (and 2023!) strong?

Stress has a powerful physical impact on the body and can affect blood pressure and the immune system as well as cause inflammation. You may already be familiar with how the stress response works biologically, but the general idea is that, in response to stressors, your body goes through both an alarm phase (detecting stressors) and a resistance phase (withstanding stressors).

The stress response is a natural process that helps us respond to conflicts. However, this response becomes problematic when extended for too long, leading to exhaustion. Ideally, we should be able to use coping mechanisms to return to the beginning of the stress response cycle. When we experience excessive or chronic stress, our body takes a hit since we are not made to withstand such prolonged periods of stress.

What might this look like in finals season? Georgetown Student Health Services outlines signs of finals stress as including impatience, irritability, feeling increasingly disorganized, difficulty making even small decisions, frequent tension headaches and skipping meals. The fact that stress can impact us this deeply might make finals season feel even more stressful (what a cycle!), but I instead urge us to remember that we have control over our stress response.

I learned in psychology class here at Georgetown that we have individualized stress responses. Our response depends on factors such as having a sense of predictability and controllability, ability to find coping mechanisms, physical health and attributions.

Predictability refers to our ability to predict and know when stressors might occur. If we have warnings, we can more adequately prepare ahead of time to deal with or avoid stressors. Controllability refers to our capacity to find areas where we can exert control. Some examples might be making a schedule, eating a breakfast you like or listening to a playlist you enjoy. The idea here is that knowing your stressor ahead of time and having solid areas of control in your life can change your stress response.

One’s ability to find coping mechanisms refers to using self-help techniques that incorporate this sense of predictability and control. These techniques include exercise (as I always advocate), time outdoors, socializing, prioritizing sleep and mindfulness or zooming out to the big picture. These strategies reframe our priorities and make stress seem more manageable. Some directly decrease anxiety, like sleeping for example. Even going to bed ten minutes earlier a night adds up.

Physical health refers to the link between stress and health. Stress weakens our immune system, and, in turn, a weakened immune system can lead to more stress. Conversely, lowering stress can help us stay healthy for our finals.

Attributions refer to our ability to be optimistic, or how we view stressful events. Thinking that no hope exists versus thinking that you “got over” the event makes a difference in the severity in which stress affects us.

Mindfulness ties into attributions — if we zoom out on the bigger picture, thinking ahead to two or three years, we can ask ourselves how much each stressor matters. Georgetown recommends mindfulness strategies using apps such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Bloom and Breathe2Relax. Personally, I have only tried meditation a couple of times, so I am curious to see how this coping strategy affects me.

Georgetown regularly offers meditation, including at the John Main Center, for those wanting an in-person and more community-based experience from faith-based to more generally focused. (I found a comprehensive guide written in an article in The Hoya by Sofia Wills and Nina Jennings).

In our finals season this year, it’s important that all of us create a sense of controllability in our lives by implementing coping strategies and choosing to impact our stress response to avoid the exhaustion stage and remain sharp for exams. With that, good luck finishing off the semester! Stay healthy, Hoyas.

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