Is the thought of finals making you a stressball?

It’s the end of the semester when a lot of us have to knuckle down and study harder than we have all semester long. A lot of emphasis is placed on finals because in many instances it decides our grade in a class. We start sweating the classes we haven’t given enough attention to and worrying about our grade point averages and in some cases it’s about passing a class.

That’s when stress can become an all-encompassing feeling from head to toe. Pick your poison for late night cramming: coffee, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, or Rockstar, to name a few.

Stress can keep us from studying well.

When we stress out, our bodies go on high alert from a real or perceived threat and our brain turns on our fight or flight system, precipitating a release of hormones to respond to the threat. Energy drinks can enhance the feelings of stress.

Stress can cause memory loss. According to a Rush University study, people who are easily stressed are more likely to develop cognitive impairment than others because the hormones released may damage and shrink the hippocampus. This is an area in the brain that supports long-term memory.

I know you only need the short term right now but we are looking at the long haul too. This is college where we need to use some of this stuff when we get out in the real world.

Cortisol is a natural alarm system that communicates with the regions of the brain that control mood and impulses.

Known as ‘the stress hormone’ because stress activates its secretion, cortisol is important for our bodies, but too much of it is detrimental to our health.  It precipitates increases in blood sugar. It causes abnormal functions in a fight-or-flight situation. It is detrimental to the immune system and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth. Stress keeps you from concentrating.

Staying focused.

Studies have shown the most people can stay focused for only about 20 minutes. The good news is: there’s an app for that. It streams music that is designed to keep you focused and concentrating especially when you need it most. 

It is called [email protected] and you can get 100 minutes of it free before the $4 per month cost will kick in.  It is based on a UCLA study that shows that certain types of music can fool the limbic system into concentrating. You are able to choose your music genre and the app will play a stream of music designed to keep you focused for as long as it takes.

In case you think you already have your own mix of perfect study music, studies done at Stanford University and the University of Wales show that music with lyrics can impair the learning process.

A psychology professor at the University of Toronto, Glenn Schellenberg has proven that fact. “You’ve got semantic information that you’re trying to use when you’re reading and you’ve got semantic information from the lyrics,” said Schellenberg.

Even when you know the words by heart, it debilitates your learning abilities, according to Schellenberg.

De-stressing from the end of the semester screaming meamies.

Looking out a window can have a relaxing effect. A study by Peter Khan at the University of Washington, conducted a study that proved it. “We do best mentally and physically when we’re connected to nature,” says Kahn.

 Eat healthier during finals week. Try getting more protein by eating trail mix, eggs, peanut butter, or a handful of almonds. Studies have shown that protein increases concentration.

Take study breaks and/or workout. Switching gears will make you a more effective studier. A recent study at Goethe university in Frankfurt Germany revealed that physical exercise helps “prime” our brains for learning new information.

Light a candle or take an aromatic bath. Aromatherapy has been found to relieve stress.

Avoid stressful people. It will only add to yours.

 Take some tips from these scientifically based studies listed on by Kate Morin:

Take a deep breath. It lowers cortisol levels, which helps to lower stress in the body. Deep breathing can also cause a temporary drop in blood pressure.

Gum chewing for 15 minutes or more reduces cortisol levels.

 Laughing can decrease the effects of stress on the body. It can even relieve fatigue.

Hugging has been found to actually reduce blood pressure and stress levels in adults.

Drinking tea has been found to lower post-stress cortisol levels and promote relaxation.

Kiss Someone! Research suggests kissing releases chemicals that ease hormones associated with stress, like that hormone cortisol. Forming positive relationships is also a key way to help reduce stress and anxiety.

 Finally, about finals…

“Stress is our perception of what’s happening outside of us and the power we give it,” said Lauren E. Miller author and stress expert. “Life happens. You have a thought about it. It’s completely objective until you label it. The way in which you decide to label an event—whether joyful, good, painful or ugly [or stressful]—will determine how your body reacts to it.”

So let’s not label that feeling at the pit of our stomach stress, how about not even getting that feeling? Try turning all that energy into something positive and powerful during finals. You might even make stress your friend. Maybe or maybe not, but at least it will give you some control over the situation.