How to Manage Stress During Finals

Daisy Thompson, LMSW, Cedar Springs Austin

For the typical student, finals can really challenge one’s ability to cope effectively. Whether because of lengthy term papers, oral reports, group projects, or final exams, students may begin to feel an overwhelming sense of stress and anxiety towards the end of a semester. In addition to the typical stress of homework and exams, some students have jobs, may be living away from home for the first time, have families of their own, or struggling with complications such as eating disorders or other mental and physical disorders.

Particularly, for those pursuing recovery from an eating disorder there are a number of factors contributing to a stress; coping with urges, practicing new skills, following a meal plan, adjusting to a new body image and attending appointment can all feel overwhelming. Add that to the academic pressures felt during finals and it can feel impossible.

In an effort to provide support for those in this situation I sought out the advice of students I know and asked for their best tips on surviving finals. One of the best responses was, “If we interpret events in life as stressful, life will be stressful.” In other words, it is all in how we decide to respond to stressful events that will determine the quality of our functioning both mentally and physically.

Here are some healthy responses recommended for managing stress:

1. Breathe!
Topping the list was breathing exercises. Some students indicated that taking a moment and focusing on breathing was often helpful in moments of great stress. One exercise I have found especially helpful is a calming breath exercise, where breathing from your abdomen, you inhale through your nose slowly for a count of five, then hold your breath for a count of five, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of five. Once you have exhaled completely, take two breaths in your normal rhythm, then repeat the cycle from the beginning. Try to repeat this cycle 5- 10 times for maximum calmness. Additionally, you may want to say a relaxing word or phrase with each exhale such as “peace”, “let go”, or “calm”, for an even more calming experience. You might also want to check out this helpful website,

2. Take a Break
Sometimes, putting your stress aside and engaging in a pleasurable activity, can make returning to the arduous chore of homework or studying, a little less daunting. Some of the recommendations made by the students included going for a walk with a friend, listening to uplifting or motivational music, or calling a friend or family member on the phone for support or just to share a laugh.

3. Laugh
All of the students agreed that laughter was really great medicine for stress, and that by laughing with friends, or watching a comedy on TV, going to a movie, browsing some funny YouTube videos, some of the stress of student-hood can be reduced.

Relieving stress requires intentional effort and is critical to a well-balanced life, so, all of you students out there, take a deep abdominal breath, schedule in a break, and have a laugh. Before you know it, you will be enjoying your much-needed holiday break.

Daisy Thompson is a Licensed Master Social Worker and full-time intake and program therapist at Cedar Springs Austin. Daisy received her BA in psychology and her MSSW from the University of Texas at Austin; graduating both times with honors. Daisy completed her clinical internships at Communities in Schools of Central Austin, and Cedar Springs Austin. Daisy is currently a member of the International Association of Eating Disorders, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Eating Disorder Association, and Austin Eating Disorder Specialists.