Freaking out about finals

We’ve gotten to that point in the year where things are wrapping up. Students are submitting papers, taking exams reviewing problem sets, finishing up research and sh*tting their pants over the impending finals …. No but in all seriousness, finals period is an extremely stressful time for many individuals. This being said, some stress is good. It helps students focus and truly prepare adequately enough so that they can perform well on exams. However, scratching your arms, until you bleed, pulling out hair, and throwing temper tantrums is probably not beneficial to either academic performance or a healthy life style.

Corticosteroids which are secreted by the adrenal cortex coordinate the bodies stress system. Often the hormones can help divert energy to areas of the body that are experiencing stress and promote the interpretation and storage of novel information (de Kloet, Oitzl, & Joels, 1999). However, too much of a good thing can be bad. Exposure to very high levels of stress acutely or chronically impairs the formation of explicit memories, as well as cognition that requires more complex flexible reasoning (Sandi, 2013). Obviously this is a bad thing in relation to final testing. Finals is a time where professors expect you to demonstrate that you have a healthy command of the material that they have presented throughout the semester. In many cases, tests and papers require you to incorporate different aspects within the subject or remember specific details. This processes can be affected by copious amount of stress.

Taking another view point, lets look at the negative effects of increased stress more evolutionarily. Traditionally, when a human is confronted with a threat, the flight or fight response is activated. This stress response involves corticosteroids as well as other hormones like epinephrine, which pulse through the organism helping it either fight the threat, or preparing the body to run away from it. This is often an instinctual response and happens without very little thinking. Now something tells me that professors don’t want you to stand up and dual your final exam to the death, and your GPA, parents, and future aren’t going to like  you running away from all your finals either.

So what are we to do?!?! We first off, just breath. By taking a deep breath we can start to (try to) relax. Another beneficial thing that helps with stress is exercise. Research by Norris, Carroll and Cochrane (1992) found that participants reported lower amounts of stress after strenuous physical activity and exercise. So don’t spend all reading period and finals period locked away in the library or in your dorm. Take some time to get out there and do something fun. Once you’ve done that, and prepared the best you can for exams then there’s not much more you can do. Good luck with exams, happy studies, and try to stay relaxed!



de Kloet, E. R., Oitzl, M. S., & Joëls, M. (1999). Stress and cognition: are corticosteroids good or bad guys?. Trends in neurosciences22(10), 422-426.

Norris, R., Carroll, D., & Cochrane, R. (1992). The effects of physical activity and exercise training on psychological stress and well-being in an adolescent population. Journal of psychosomatic research36(1), 55-65.

Sandi, C. (2013). Stress and cognition. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science4(3), 245-261.

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