“Dreadful, overwhelming, demanding,” were the three words Alexander Mack, a freshman marketing, international business and psychology triple major, used to describe finals week.
The added stress and angst of the pandemic has sparked more conversations about self-care. Since Zoom finals are right around the corner and they’re still happening amidst a worldwide health crisis, members of the community have shared their thoughts on the causes and cures of burnout.
Psychology senior lecturer at the University of Maryland, Dylan Selterman has a Ph.D. in Social/ Health Psychology. He said via email that exercise, meditation and yoga, good sleep habits and a healthy diet are the most effective strategies to battle extreme stress. “Some people also find music very helpful (I'm one of them), and taking time for hobbies and socializing,” he said.
It can be easy to pass your stress onto others and vice versa during finals.Selterman said that emotions are contagious but not in the same way as germs, “[The effects of] social contagion of emotion… tend to be small, and emerge mainly when people spend extended periods of time with highly distressed people,” he said.
Moreover, the idea of emotional contagion is complicated according to Selterman, because distressed students tend to be in the same situational context as their school environment.“It's really the shared environment rather than contagion that's causing so much distress,” he said.
Breaks are essential, “there's only a limit to how much humans can do without becoming overwhelmed,” said Selterman.
Taking long walks and listening to music is freshman psychology major Adriana Santana-Ufret’s self-care combo for when she needs a break. Whereas freshman computer science major Angela Andy said that sleep is her remedy to all the chaos.
“Sleep dramatically impacts performance in a wide range of domains, including exams. That's a fact,” Selterman stated.
However, he added that the amount of hours that constitute a “good night's sleep” varies from person to person.
There are other factors besides stress that can affect sleep quality, rather than quantity. These are anxiety, social conflict, alcohol or drug use, and other factors that can negatively affect your mood and mental well-being, according to Selterman.
Image Credit: Josie Jack for The Campus Trainer
Another way to handle stress is with pamper routines. Examples include, but are not limited to, putting on a relaxing face mask, getting a massage at a spa, and taking a bubble bath. The purpose is to give yourself special treatment in order to re-energize.
Studies show that pamper routines can make people feel calmer and more emotionally stable, Selterman mentioned.
“Whether they actually improve outcomes like test scores is a different question,” he said, “but it wouldn't surprise me if a future study showed a correlation there too.”
Kendra Williams is the front desk lead at The Spa at The Hotel at the University of Maryland, located at 7777 Baltimore Ave 4th Floor. She said that facials and massages can be the most impactful for when it comes to pampering before, during or after finals season.
Scheduling a massage during the week can relieve tension in the body. “During the studying period, a massage can definitely release tension of the neck and the back” said Williams
Since students tend to sleep less and overlook their nutrition during finals, massages after exams can help undo some of the strain you put your body through, Williams said. “It can adjust your comfort levels and detoxify all the fluids built up from the lack of sleep or poor nutrition as a result of lack of time,” she added.
Extreme stress can also affect the appearance of skin. This is where facials come into play, according to Williams. A facial treatment or microdermabrasion (a physical smoothing of the skin), can help alleviate rough skin. These can help get rid of congestion as well.
Both massages and facials can help boost your immune system, Williams said. These spa treatments can help reduce the levels of cortisol, the hormone produced when you are stressed, in your body. When cortisol levels are high like during finals week, the immune system is altered and the digestive system can be suppressed.
Aromatherapy and the use of essential oils during these treatments can enhance the calming effect. “The properties of the oils produce more invigorating results. We also use CBD oil which is great for relaxing,” Williams said.
The meaning of recharging during exam week can be eclectic. Indeed, self-care does not require being by yourself either. “In fact, some people actually feel better when they care for and support others,” Selterman said.
The environment and pressure of finals can sometimes make it seem like one mistake is the end of the world. Thus, taking a break to yourself in any shape or form is essential to keep your eye on the big picture of life.