The last leg: Finishing the semester strong after spring break

Whether you’re a first-year or a senior, you’ve got a lot of work staring you in the face over the next couple of weeks. The end seems eons away, and your workload seems insurmountable.

Here’s maybe the best advice anyone can give you: breathe.

Now that you’ve breathed, read on.

I’ve been in college since dinosaurs walked the earth. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve learned from my downs. That’s why I’ve written this piece: so you can learn from my mistakes and take my advice to finish this semester strong.

First, breathe.

Second, learn how to control stress. As Director of Counseling Gaither Terrell writes in “College Students and Stress,” a handout from the Counseling Center, “Stress/anxiety is necessary and useful. It alerts us to dangers, helps us avoid risks, motivates us to get things done and actually helps us to perform our best.”

Start by spacing out your work. Drawing up a game plan gives you plenty of time to focus on the tasks at hand and to deal with them without foundering. Taken from experience, assignments tackled in the eleventh hour end in disaster. At this point, time is your friend.

The Learning Commons offers time management counseling to help all students.

“What we encourage them to do is get a realistic picture of what’s coming,” said Melissa Daniel Frink, Learning Commons director. “We encourage them to take (their) calendar and write down all the major deadlines they have in the next few weeks, and then work to break those assignments into small pieces and to work on them steadily, day by day, chipping away to the end, so there isn’t this mad rush to get way too many things done in too little time.”

When you space out your work, you’ll find that there is time to focus on yourself outside of academia. So sleep, exercise, go out with your friends, do something other than work. Bottled-up stress needs a vent, so take the time to vent.

Also, take a break while working. A break of just a few minutes after putting my nose to the grindstone for an hour or so can clear away any clutter in my mind and help me focus on my work.

For example, now would be a good time to take a deep breath.

Here’s an indispensable bit of advice I didn’t learn until recently: if you need help, reach out.

“The time between spring break and exams is our busiest time of the year,” said Terrell in an email interview. “The students we work with are usually dealing with a number of stressors and issues already which are then exacerbated by the cyclical stresses of the academic calendar.”

Don’t think any less of yourself for it either.

“(Students) have to overcome the stigma of asking for help,” said Frink. “Not wanting to appear weak or less intelligent or whatever this mythos of our culture has created in their head that if you ask for help, you’re (inferior).”

This is perhaps what held me down for most of my early academic career. I couldn’t allow myself to reach out because of this stigma. At the very least, reach out to the people who care about you. If you feel apprehensive, talk with your friends and family. If you use them as a sounding board, you’ll find your anxiety diminished simply by getting it out in the open.

Of course, as Terrell writes, “There are no magic bullets for handling stress.” These tactics are what I learned work for me, so you can take this article with either a grain or a bucket of salt.

Just don’t forget to breathe.

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