Around the end of second semester, the school brims with students hunched over laptops and papers deep in concentration and heaving sighs of exhaustion. The never-ending list of finals, EOCs and last-minute projects bears down upon schedules already packed with sports, clubs and family obligations. Simply surviving the preliminary round of unit tests and assignments proves challenging.
The heavy workload around the end of the year combined with the desire to perform well creates a breeding ground for stress that plagues many students. Sophomore Stacey Alvarez said the pressure she feels from simultaneous exams impacts both her mental health and study habits.
“I feel like since you have so many exams around the same period of time, you tend to cram everything in last minute the day before the exam,” Alvarez said, “which is more stressful because you’re like, ‘I need to do good’ but you know the chances of you doing well when cramming the night before are kind of low.”
In addition to the flood of exams, internal pressure as well as pressure from friends, teachers and guardians may contribute to stress levels, said RBHS Outreach Counselor Lesley Thalhuber M.Ed., LPC. Fortunately, habits, such as paying attention in class, taking notes and building strong relationships with teachers may reduce students’ stress at the end of the year.
“All those choices we’ve made all year long are now kind of culminating into this final picture of what we’ve put into it,” Thalhuber said. “So, people can really feel stressed if they’ve procrastinated or not built those good teacher relationships or have missed a lot of school. For a variety of reasons, [the end of the year] can be even more stressful.”
While Alvarez practices several of the habits Thalhuber mentioned, she said her tendency to procrastinate adds to her stress load. From hypertension to insomnia, long-term procrastination may undermine individuals’ health. To avoid the negative implications of stress, senior Henry Huang tackles work early. He said worrying and putting too much work aside for later does not change the circumstances.
“Sometimes, you just can’t be worried about doing stuff, you know,” Huang said. “When stuff comes, you’ve just gotta do it. Just act. You don’t have to think about all the consequences, you just act with it. Just go with the flow, just try not to worry about it that much.”
Huang rarely postpones his work and said this strategy serves him well. As a RBHS math club and chess club member, dedicated pianist and senior enrolled in several AP classes, Huang said effective time management helps him stay level-headed.
While she knows cramming for tests may impact her grades and health, Alvarez said her schedule consists of few windows for study time. Between rigorous courses, such AP World Studies, and additional commitments like orchestra, cheer and the leadership program Women of Color Honor and Ambition (W.O.C.H.A.), Alvarez said sometimes, taking mental breaks outweighs the benefits of trying to do everything.
Numerous studies suggest mental breaks and increased productivity go hand in hand. Exercise and meditation may reduce symptoms of anxiety while naps may improve focus. Alvarez said she frequently incorporates five to ten-minute breaks into her schedule. She uses these breaks to eat a snack, listen to music or take a brief nap. Occasionally, Alvarez said she goes straight to bed once home from school and wakes up around five or six in the morning to finish work.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t stay up late anymore, and I just take priority of my sleeping schedule because it’s gotten so bad, and I just like sleep at ten, as early as I can,” Alvarez said.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers should shoot for eight to ten hours of slumber every night. Adequate sleep improves brain function, health and performance levels at work and school. Not getting enough sleep may impact mood, attention span and increase the risk for depression along with other medical conditions.
Besides taking short breaks and prioritizing sleep, Alvarez said she makes use of tutoring and other resources offered to students. At RBHS, Thalhuber said the media center and success center provide quiet atmospheres for students to work, while study groups, teachers and counselors exist for additional support and encouragement. For Huang, dependable connections both at school and at home help him manage stress.
Huang said his strong relationship with his parents motivates him during tough parts of the year. He said he would advise other students to form closer relationships with those in their lives, too.
“I think that we all need to understand that there’s some healthy values to stress and healthy components of it, and we always just focus on the negative.” -Lesley Thalhuber M.Ed., LPC
“Definitely try to talk to your parents more. It’s really helpful. I mean, I know a lot of people that don’t have the strongest connection with their parents,” Huang said, “but I feel like that’s really key to help solving stress. And also having a great network of friends to fall on is also great to deal with stress, as well.”
With so many coping strategies, the end of the year does not always have to result in depleted energy levels or frantic, frazzled chaos. In fact, Thalhuber said certain stressors may even bring out our better qualities. For example, stress motivates us to study, get things done and seek help when we get stuck.
“I think that we all need to understand that there’s some healthy values to stress and healthy components of it, and we always just focus on the negative,” Thalhuber said.
Nevertheless, developing effective habits may require trial and error. When viewed from a different angle, Thalhuber said failure may open up opportunities for improvement and, ultimately, a better outlook for the future.
“And for those of us who haven’t [put in the work], for those worst case scenarios, you know, there’s the ability to learn from our choices and, perhaps, our mistakes,” Thalhuber said. “We can even use failure at the end of the school year in a productive way rather than a destructive way if we can be reflective, if we can seek some support and advice, and be willing to adopt some new habits for the next school year so it ends in a better way.”
How do you manage end-of-year stress? Leave a comment below.