He said mindfulness practices like yoga can help students manage stress, but that they can take a while to become effective.
“The ideal is to have established a practice during non-stressful times, so when you get to stressful times you can bring everything up in your reserve to meet the stress,” O’Barr said. “But if you haven’t been doing some form of practice and you’ve got nothing to bring up the reserve, then you just white-knuckle it.”
O’Barr said it’s good for students to have periodic breaks during extreme stress and take time for themselves. And though some students can take this advice to extremes, like the Davis Library streaking tradition, it’s good that they’re taking a break, he said.
“They’re sleep-deprived, they’re like, ‘Whatever, you’re going to run across naked, I will too!’” he said. “It takes your mind for a little while off of the sort of tedium of the ongoing stress. It might not be something that I’d recommend or prescribe, but I think it’s stress relief.”
O’Barr recommends students get good sleep and stick to a regular sleep schedule, eat well and exercise when they can.
Rachel Stratton, a sports dietitian at UNC, said the nerves and anxiety surrounding periods of high stress like final exams can change an individual’s appetite, food choices and eating frequency.
“When I counsel athletes or students I recommend that they try to keep their food and feelings separate and that they manage their stress and their anxiety around studying and finals separately,” she said.
Stratton said she coaches students not to use food as a coping mechanism, and to instead engage in relaxing activities like going for a run, taking a hot shower or calling family.
“If an individual alters their eating habits drastically, whether that’s consuming excessive amounts of calories or inadequate calories, that changes an individual’s performance by increasing early onset fatigue or decreasing muscle recovery or having an impact on their immunity — overall poor performance,” she said.
Additionally, she said it’s important that students avoid consuming high amounts of caffeine around exams because of its negative effects on the body.
Molly Burke, a first-year health policy management major, said she’s preparing for finals by getting a lot of sleep and making a plan with academic advising. She said she hasn’t been eating as much because she’s been busy studying for finals, but she hasn’t noticed a big change in her habits otherwise.
“I feel like I know what to expect for most of my classes, but I’m not going to say that I’m not stressed about them,” she said.
Emily Meggs, a junior psychology major, said she felt she is getting better at dealing with finals stress, but has learned to take time for herself and relax.
“Whenever I get really stressed during finals, I’ll take a few minutes and paint my nails or do my hair and just take a nice, hot shower for like 20 minutes and just kind of put the books down and get away from everything for a little bit so that I don’t go insane,” she said.