Staving off finals stress

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University of Iowa staff are encouraging students to take a moment to breathe amid their hours spent reviewing course material, making flashcards, and worrying over final exams this week.

Everything from free food to massage chairs to therapy dog sessions are being offered on campus to encourage students to pause and relieve stress.

Taking short breaks between study sessions increases productivity, and students shouldn’t sit for more than 50 minutes without getting up, said Kathleen Staley, assistant director for outreach at University Counseling Service.

“You want to keep the blood flowing up to your brain, and when you sit and study for long hours, the blood starts to pool in your legs and and feet,” she said.

Staley said aerobic activity, such as running in place or taking a walk through the neighborhood, can reduce anxiety by 50 percent. Exercise is also helpful to combat pre-test nerves by dissipating adrenaline, she said.

“Climb the stairs in the building where your exam is just to calm yourself down,” she advised.

For students wanting to take a mental break, activity stations featuring puzzles, colored pencils, and postcard making will be in the Main Library this week.

“Studies indicate that students who take short, fairly frequent breaks during their study time are more productive,” said Jennifer Masada, strategic communications manager for UI Libraries. “So this is one of the reasons that we have these little stations set up. If they give their head a break, take a walk, and do one of these activities to clear their mind, they’ll find their study time is enhanced and more productive.”

Aside from physical and activity-based breaks, simply sitting quietly and taking deep, slow breaths can calm you, Staley said.

“Go to a lovely place in your mind, like the ocean or the mountains,” she said. “To calm yourself, stop all the hurry and sit down quietly, close your eyes and be aware of your surroundings.”

Staley also said that during finals week, students should try to eat more complex carbohydrates and proteins. Foods like cake and cookies can make people feel like they have anxiety because they spike blood sugar and make the heart pound, she said.

“What we eat makes a difference in how we perform; your blood sugar carries nutrition to all parts of your body, and your brain actually uses 30 percent of it,” Staley said. “If you eat well, you’re going to do better, and don’t skip breakfast.”

However, Staley said, that in moderation, comfort food like pizza, chocolate, and macaroni and cheese could be very calming.

“If there is a food that is very comforting to you, I would have a piece of that,” she said.

At the IMU, coffee and free snacks such as fruit, candy, and granola bars will be available at different times during the week. Additionally, 6,000 free bags of popcorn total will be given out between May 7 and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to midnight.

Bret Gothe, the director of strategic communications for Student Life, said that in addition to the snacks, the therapy dogs, yoga, and massage chair sessions at the IMU are all offered to reduce the stress of students.

“It helps students find that space to breathe and come away from their studies and then come back and have a positive experience,” he said.

This year, the IMU has also increased the number of academic Q&A sessions for popular lecture courses.

“It’s a great chance for students,” Gothe said, “Faculty and TAs come to the Iowa Theater, and it’s basically just a giant review session.”

Staley said academic preparation is the most helpful for reducing stress, but positive thinking is important too. She recommends writing optimistic messages on index cards to look at before big tests.

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