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Six tips for navigating the end of the semester

Members of UD’s Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition offer advice

The end of the semester tends to be the busiest time for students. Following a week off for Thanksgiving break, University of Delaware students returned for two weeks of class sessions, final assignments and then exams began Monday, Dec. 11. All that during the holiday season, which comes with its own burdens. Simply put, it can all be stressful.

Stress can impact students in variety of ways. It can negatively impact sleep, eating behaviors and mood. In some cases studies have shown it can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

The good news is there are strategies to help manage and reduce stress. Below are some tips from members of UD’s Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition to help students stay happy and healthy during finals.

Get your sleep

Studies show there is a direct relationship between memory and sleep. Yet, many students opt to sacrifice sleep to study. While it may be tempting to think more hours means more studying, that’s not always the case.

“Make sure you get your sleep because your brain is going to function much better with that,” Associate Professor Stephen Goodwin said. “You’re going to recall things. We know when we are really fatigued we can’t remember things as well.”

Goodwin, who teaches courses on healthy habits, said creating and sticking to a sleep schedule can make a huge difference. Establishing this routine, especially in the final weeks of the semester, will lead to more productive days and help with concentration when test taking.

Have a plan

If students are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, creating a plan and writing lists can help. A plan makes tasks more manageable and helps you to be in control. Tara Leonard, clinical instructor and health coach, suggested students plan out as much of their day as possible.

“Whether it be packing a healthy snack, whether it be packing your gym clothes, whether it be deciding your study schedule for the day, planning ahead will always put you on top, or at least in a better position,” said Leonard.

She suggests keeping the list handy at all times.

“Even in the middle of the night, if you wake up and you find that you can’t fall back asleep because you have a mental treadmill of all of the things you need to do, taking a moment and writing those things down on a piece of paper has been very effective for a lot of people,” said Leonard.  

Take breaks

This relates back to the myth that more hours means more studying. Research has shown that students who take breaks while studying perform better than those who do not. Non-stop stimulation is draining and less information is retained in the end.

“One of the biggest flaws I see is that students will sit down and do an eight hour stretch and try and cram everything into one,” said Assistant Professor Marc Lodyga. “I like the approach of doing something for an hour, taking 20 minutes off to do something you enjoy — whether it's talk with friends, search on the internet, just sit and look at the ceiling, whatever it is and then go back at it because sitting there trying to do something for a long period of time is just going to make it worst.”

If you need a reminder, try downloading a program like Big Stretch or setting a timer so you know when to take a break.

Be aware of distractions

Instagram, Netflix, Snapchat, Facebook and hundreds of other things become pretty tempting distractions when we need to study. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Media Education, found 30 percent of students believed using devices did not distract from learning.

Assistant Professor Michael Mackenzie said otherwise.

“There’s no such thing as multitasking,” said Mackenzie “Our brains sequentially process, quite quickly, but if you think that you’re doing a bunch of things at the same time, physiologically that’s not happening. So there’s going to be decrements in performance. That’s just facts. That’s just biology.”

If you need some help, there are many free apps and websites like SelfControl and StayFocusd  that block the internet and/or distracting websites when you need to get work done.

Don’t forget to care for yourself

As students prioritize assignments and studying, it is easy to forget to prioritize healthy needs. Physical activity is a way to relieve stress. It can also help with focus and sleep. Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day is the recommended amount. Leonard said to remember it does not need to be done in one shot.

“You should exercise for about 10 minutes per each session for it be to effective,” said Leonard. “so you want to be at that mark, but you can break it up so that it's not all at once.”

Walking outside, visiting museums or other walking attractions are options Leonard recommended if you are looking to switch it up from strictly going to the gym.

Stress can also impact our eating habits — whether we react by eating less or more. Goodwin suggested buying healthy snacks to have while studying. Again, planning is key for these situations and can help us to make better decisions.

Mackenzie, who is the program director of the graduate certificate in health coaching, said he teaches two techniques to help stressed students take a step back and be more mindful. The first is GRACE, which stands for Gather attention, Recall intention, Attune to your environment, Consider your actions, Enact your plan. The second is SOBER: Stop, Observe, Breathe, Expand, and Respond. Both techniques are ways to stop what you are doing, reflect on how you are feeling and assess the best way to move forward.

Make use of campus resources

If you are overwhelmed and do not know where to begin, there are plenty of resources available on campus. Below are some resources to make use of.

UD Library

The library can help with a handful of student needs including tutoring sessions and finding resources for papers. Additionally, two of UD’s four writing centers are located in the library. Students can sign up to get one-on-one or small group help with their writing.

Healthy Hens

Healthy Hens is another resource on campus that promotes healthy habits. Check out the website to access additional tips and resources to stay healthy on campus.

The Center for Counseling and Student Development

CCSD counselors are available to talk with students for a range of cases from career decisions to personal problems. Students may also call the UD helpline at 302-831-1001 any time if they want to talk with a counselor.


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