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UHS offers advice on how to take stress out of finals

December 8, 2010

Winter weather isn’t the only thing blowing into Madison — so is final exam time, making it a blustery and stressful time of year for many University of Wisconsin–Madison students as they finish up research papers and study for tests.

Students can help manage that stress by getting good sleep, avoiding too much caffeine and taking study breaks — the right kind, that is.

“Taking frequent breaks can help solidify what you’ve just studied,” says Rob Sepich, student relations manager at University Health Services (UHS). “But those breaks should give you an opportunity to rest and reflect.”

Although playing mobile games or watching YouTube videos might seem like easy and fun ways to take a breather, research suggests that there could be negative side effects.

“When your brain is constantly stimulated, you might be sacrificing the time it needs to process and retain the information you just took in,” explains Sepich. “In short, get the most of your study time by slowing your mind down once in a while.”

According to a University of Michigan study, doing an activity where there is very little information processing, such as taking a nature walk, can actually improve learning and reduce fatigue.

But if you don’t want to brave the Wisconsin weather in December, “try out a brief relaxation exercise, listen to a favorite song or gently stretch your body,” says Sepich.

UHS offers numerous tips and resources for students feeling stressed out, run down or anxious. They range from simple stress-reduction techniques to free downloadable mp3 relaxation exercises, massage therapy or even meetings with professional counselors.

Students interested in receiving a free one-on-one session with a counselor should call the main UHS number at 608-265-5600 to schedule an appointment. Students can call the same number to make an appointment for 50 minutes of massage therapy for $40. To download a relaxation exercise, visit

Basic stress-reduction tips include:

  • Set realistic goals of what needs to be accomplished and what can be achieved. Unrealistic expectations will produce a heavy burden of stress and anxiety.
  • Get enough sleep. All-nighters are a part of finals lore, but studies have shown the brain remembers better and functions more efficiently with at least four to six hours.
  • Eat right. A diet of pizza and energy drinks will probably compound a rundown feeling and reduce your ability to focus. Aim for a balanced diet, including plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates.
  • Take brief and frequent study breaks — even five minutes per hour — to avoid feeling overloaded.
  • Finish one task at a time instead of tackling many problems at once.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Turning to friends, professors or UHS for help in coping is a sign of strength, not weakness.

More stress resources are available at