Keep the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality out of finals

By Sophia Al Rasheed / Columnist

As finals week approaches, I can’t help but carry an almost condescending senior attitude toward the noobs who allow stress to take over. This could partially be due to round two of senioritis, but I’d like to think that it has more to do with the refined approach I’ve learned to take toward finals week.

Over the past seven semesters, I’ve made more of an effort to avoid stress in preparation for studying time rather than actually increasing the amount of time I study, because I’ve found that eliminating stress will actually help me stay focused and positive. The result has saved me several panic attacks and provided me with the feeling that I can attack the week, and I’d like to pass the savings on to you.

The overall theme of these tips is to avoid the mentality that normally plagues the way present-day college students approach their lives: the “work hard, play hard” mentality. While Wiz Khalifa is sort of proof that this motto can get us far in life, I’ve found that students wrongly adopt this into their approach to the college lifestyle. It seems that many would like to spend their time completely entrenched in “play,” instead of focusing on school.

Don’t get me wrong, playing is definitely necessary to our sanity, but too much of it gets in the way of the “work” aspect and negatively impacts your overall work output by increasing stress and reducing the efficiency with which you complete work during finals week.

Now I’m not going to assume that “play” always involves alcohol, but in case it does, you might want to consider switching to a different form of stress relief during finals week, as this can have the most counteracting effect on stress. In the health article “Drinking alcohol may prolong, not relieve, stress” published in U.S. News and World Report, associate researcher Emma Childs from the University of Chicago discussed the effects of alcohol consumption on stress levels.

“The increase in heart rate and blood pressure, the release of cortisol [a stress hormone] and also the increased feelings of tension and negative mood each reach a climax and dissipate at a different rate. Therefore, drinking more alcohol might have different effects, depending on how long after the stress a person drinks,” she said.

In addition to actually increasing the likelihood of a stress takeover, drinking stands in the way of a quality night’s sleep. Multiple sources, such as Maia Szalavitz’s article in Time “Sleeping it off: How alcohol affects sleep quality,” make it clear that alcohol interferes with REM sleep — “the deepest sleep stage in which most dreams occur and during which memories are likely stored and learning occurs.” Although you might fall asleep effortlessly after a night of drinking, alcohol negatively impacts the actual quality of your sleep and can interfere with attempts to achieve a productive finals week.

In actuality, using alcohol as a source of stress “relief” can create a cycle of causing more of what it seeks to avoid. Try to limit the amount of time spent with this type of distraction, ensuring that one quality, healthful night of sleep stands between you and a productive and calm day. This gives you a legitimate excuse to relax with a Netflix marathon or spend the evening on Pinterest.

The mistakes that students typically make don’t stop with the preparations for the previous night. Another pitfall that I’ve observed over the past few years are the choices that students make to get through their days, namely what we put into our bodies during the actual studying portion of finals week.

I don’t understand when it became normal behavior for individuals around the age of 20 to pound 5-Hour Energy shots at 11 a.m. (your body is meant to be perfectly alert during this time of day) or keep the entire snack aisle on the library table. We appear to forget that at this age, our bodies are relatively healthy and are capable of studying and being productive without force-feeding them chemicals to stay awake or focused. A few cups of coffee during the day are one thing, but constantly attending to what you think your body needs is another.

Listen to what it’s telling you and respond with something like coffee, tea, food or water — lots of water. Another perk of actually tending to what your body needs is that the food you put into your body can really make a difference. Fruits, veggies and snacks with fewer ingredients in the label can impact your productivity and actually prevent feelings of grogginess that negatively affect study sessions. If you’re searching for the right foods to keep you going for a productive study session, not a period of high energy and a crash, try researching some of the foods (such as tea, blueberries and yogurt) that can help you — consider it a productive way to procrastinate.

My final tip is to take the time to exercise during finals week, no matter how little an amount it might be. It’s the perfect way to combat the “work hard, play hard” mentality that many students seem to favor so much. I don’t mean to sound like a health nut (my figure would do all the convincing to prove otherwise) but working out can act as both working and playing, if you choose to view it that way.

Exercise, no matter what form it takes, relieves stress by increasing endorphins and lifting your mood. Sources even state that it can reverse the negative effects of stressful events, like brain atrophy and decreased cognitive function. Even at its most basic level, exercise can provide a buffer between the times we feel obligated to spend behind the books. I’ve found that it acts as the perfect activity to feel productive without reading, writing or outlining.

Many students fail to take advantage of the benefits of exercise because of either laziness or, more noticeably, the preconceived idea that exercise is just for athletic people. Crossing from inactivity  into the unfamiliar territory of the gym might be the last thing we want to do during a stressful time, but take it from someone who decided to do so in a very unathletic, “freshman 15” state: You’ll be happy you did. At the very least, you can view this as something to cross off your to-do list in order to maximize your time spent during finals week. Plus, this one has the added perk of burning a few extra calories before the holiday season.

When it comes to the rest of your life decisions, don’t let me stand in the way of whatever “work hard, play hard” mentality you choose to adopt. But when it comes to finals week, you’ll be thankful to leave it behind.

Write Sophia at [email protected].