The Finals Push: Dealing with Your Stress

04/05/2012 § 10 Comments

Stress Reduction

by Eamon Curry under Creative Commons via Flickr.

Do you feel that buzz in the air? Or maybe you can actually feel the vibrations under your skin and drumming in your ears. You might even be thinking “I don’t have time to read Hack Library School right now!” It isn’t just the caffeine you’ve been living on. If you’re like a number of our fellow LIS students, professionals, and hackers what you’re surely feeling right now is STRESS.

Even if you are done with your own finals, if you’re working in a library or around any type of student population, by osmosis you are picking up on the stress hormones of those around you. Patience is hard to come by. Deadlines feel like do-or-die. Your brain feels like it is careening around the blackness on the back of a TRON bike.

Breathe, friend, and let’s talk stress management.

First, you’re doing one of the best things for you right now: discovering what you can do for self care. There are tons of resources out there for dealing with stress — but likely you are too strapped for time to find them right now (or hearing “finding aide” or “keyword search” makes you want to scream a little). I therefore offer some hacks and tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Breathe. Seriously this is the best tip I can offer. In fact, stand up from your computer or put down your portable device right now and take 10 deep breaths. Close your eyes and ease your shoulders down. Stare at the back of your eyelids. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth 10 times. Repeat once an hour or as needed.
  • Make a list. The big, scary, undefined is a Goliath on steroids. If you break your tasks down, write them down, stick deadlines on them, they become littler gremlins. The list also helps you prioritize and see if there are demands on your time that you might be able to release or slide. I did this with this very post, as I was scheduled for last week and knew I just couldn’t get it done. What a difference a few days can make! The list also lets you see there is some end in sight.
  • Reach out to your Professors or others to ask for help. If that major project or term paper is just not coming together and completely overwhelming you, send an email to your professor and let them know. Offer to show proof of work and ask (politely) for an extension. Or offer to turn in the assignment as it is at the deadline but ask if you can work on it for an extra few days or discuss it’s failings to make corrections in the hopes of improving your grade. The point of this schooling after all is to teach us to be professionals. Just as you could and should be upfront with a boss about a need for an extension to make a work product better, so too could you do the same with coursework. It never hurts to ask.
  • Talk to your friends and family. I certainly benefited from Zack’s advice to let friends and family know what you are facing in advance and tell them that you’re just not going to have a whole lot of time to enjoy their company or other extracurriculars. This eases some of the social pressures and lets you focus on what you need to get done so you can enjoy later. Venting to a good friend about all you are dealing will can also greatly help you get it out and move forward.
  • Take some time for you. This might be counter to the advice above but breaks are super important. There are some studies that suggest we just aren’t built to concentrate for long stretches. As Laura advocated in her article on Work/Life Balance: Work when it is time to work and then set it aside. Give yourself permission to nap, watch a movie or tv, read for pleasure, eat a good meal, take a yoga class or a long shower — whatever you like to do and gives you a real break from whatever your working on. You’ll come back refreshed and more efficient.
  • Move. This somewhat goes with the above but exercise is incredibly good for the brain. Take a walk, go to kick-boxing or Zumba, run, bike, or simply stand up and do 40 jumping jacks — studies also show that just taking quick breaks from sitting for long periods helps with overall health. Get your blood flowing and release some of that tension.
  • Change your venue. I know too well the lock yourself in your bedroom, hunch over your laptop, books and notes and grind it out mentality. It turns out that practice is probably not good study practice. Going to sit somewhere else, working in a coffee shop or the library, taking your laptop onto the porch for a while, changing positions, or otherwise changing your environment helps your brain distinguish what you are learning and make new connections. Even if your retention doesn’t statistically improve, it can be much better for your general outlook on life, while working around others working can help you focus and make you more productive.
  • Eat, Drink, Sleep. Make sure you are getting proper sustenance and sleep. Read: a diet of power bars and coffee with two hours of sleep is grossly hurting not helping your productivity. Take the time to eat and sleep well and you’ll be much more effective than if you pulled an all-nighter on Red Bull to try to cram in your notes.

For more advice, check out Alyssa’s guest post on dealing with library school anxiety and The University of Manchester’s guide to exam stress. New LISers who might be pre-stressing about starting school this summer can find some good tips from Zack and Heidi. And if you are done with exams and already looking towards your break, maybe re-read this or this for ideas for how to spend your well-earned free(er) time.

Finally: Know yourself. What works for “everyone” might not work for you. Take a moment to think about what has helped you in the past and try to replicate it. But definitely breathe.

Good luck with whatever you are working on today!

Any other tips I missed you would like to suggest? Help and support your fellow LISers it the comments below.

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