Antonio Guillem/123rf
Source: Antonio Guillem/123rf

Overwhelmed by a stressful semester and too much work? Wondering how you’re going to make it through the last few weeks before finals? Here are four ways to finish the semester strong: 

1) Give yourself a good reason. I’m not going to suggest to you that it’s time to get pumped up about all the work you have ahead of you. Let’s be real. But if you’re an expert at telling yourself why you shouldn’t do your work, maybe now’s a good time to change the script. Start by paying attention to what goes through your mind when you consider doing schoolwork. Some examples:

  • I’d rather do something else.
  • It’s so boring.
  • I don’t know where to start.
  • I don’t understand the material.

Some ideas for more useful self-talk messages:

  • If I get some studying done now, I won’t worry about it when I do something fun later.
  • Boring work isn’t going to get more interesting later, so I should get started and take short breaks when it’s hard to focus.
  • If I open the textbook, look through my notes, and read the assignment guidelines, at least it’s a step in the right direction. Once I get going, it’ll get easier.
  • I’ll understand the material better if I search for main ideas first and focus on the details later.

Catch the negative thoughts when they occur and replace them with new beliefs. With practice, you'll have more useful beliefs without having to implement them intentionally. 

2) Show anxiety who’s boss. If you’re avoiding schoolwork, worrying about it, and feeling tense because of it, staying calm and productive will be tough. Instead of doing things that escalate anxiety, do the opposite. 

  • To address avoidance, do at least a little bit of work consistently. Schedule 30 minutes if you think that’s all you can handle. You might surprise yourself and do much more. Or, if you choose to stop and do another 30 minutes later, you’re less likely to criticize yourself for doing less.
  • Being productive early and often beats last-minute cramming for worrying less. If worrying continues, write down your concerns and the steps you need to take to address them. This will give your mind a break so you can focus on your work instead of the ideas that make you anxious. You can always go back to your notes later to review your worries and their solutions.
  • If you’re struggling with physical tension, take a break for deep breathing, yoga, cardio, meditation, a massage, or a warm bath.

3) Get a study buddy. Corny word choice aside, working with a classmate or a friend has many benefits. Scheduling time to study with another person works because

  • You’re less likely to skip out on work if it means breaking a commitment to a friend.
  • Discussing course concepts with someone else can enhance your retention of the material.
  • Having someone to chat with during breaks makes the work seem less tedious.
  • Working with a partner is a good opportunity to get out of the house and away from distractions that might pull you away from studying.
  • Even if you’re working on different things, having company might boost your intrinsic motivation to get things done.

4) Use problem-focused coping strategies. When things get stressful, activities that give you a short-term break might seem like the answer. Emotion-focused coping strategies can make you feel better for a few hours, which is why it’s so easy to turn to things like exercise, napping, watching TV, creative work, visiting friends, eating junk food, or drinking beer (of course, some of these are better choices than others). But when you have papers and projects to complete and final exams looming, the work needs to get done at some point. Don't forget to use problem-focused coping strategies to stay on track:

  • Look at your syllabus.
  • Figure out what needs to get done and how long it will take.
  • Schedule time to work and put it in your smartphone or other electronic calendar. Set email or pop-up reminders.
  • Do you have important or challenging things to do that you're likely to avoid? Can you work on those things first? 
  • Identify obstacles. What might get in the way of achieving your goals? What can you do about it? 
  • Reach out to your instructors. Let them know you’d like to finish strong and that you’d appreciate their advice. Take advantage of office hours to get their help.

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Interested in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), self-help tips, and improving personal health? Connect with me on Twitter (@joelminden) or Facebook.

About the Author

Joel Minden, Ph.D.

Joel Minden, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, Director of the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and lecturer in the Department of Psychology at California State University, Chico.

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