Reduce holiday- and exam-induced stress like a pro

By Kenna Caprio

The impending holidays and final exams are enough to make a person run away screaming or destroy a stress ball. But, this time of the year doesn’t have to be all work and no play, or all stress and no relaxation.

Take the advice of the psychological professionals on FDU’s Metropolitan and Florham campuses, and breathe deeply, whether today’s assignment is researching a term paper or fighting crowds at the mall. Say it with us now, ahhhhhh!

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Get into relaxation mode by listening (or dancing) to some favorite music or hugging a furry canine friend! (Photos by Dan Landau and Catherine Krawiec)
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Breathing right can help lower blood pressure and clear your mind, advises Charles Imbimbo, psychological counselor at Student Counseling and Psychological Services (S-CAPS) on the Metropolitan Campus. In diaphragmatic breathing, as you inhale through the nose, the belly expands — as opposed to the chest — and as you exhale, it contracts. Imbimbo recommends 10-15 minutes of this type of breathing, once or twice a day for students, especially during finals.

Other tricks of the de-stressing trade include: learning to take time to relax, developing a hobby, doing something for others, indulging in exercise and healthy foods, turning up the tunes and focusing on the positive, according to literature from S-CAPS.

“Stress that remains stuck has the potential to manifest into irrational thoughts, body discomfort, uncomfortable emotions, or a lack of vision and direction. The flow of positive energy that exists within us is what provides balance in keeping the intensity of stress at bay,” says Stephanie Koempel, counselor and acting director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the Florham Campus. “Reflecting upon what we are grateful for in times of stress is one of many ways to tap into our inner positive energy. Additional ways consist of connecting to nature, spending time with a loved one or cherished pet, and actively engaging in a meaningful activity that brings us joy.”

Still, the one-two punch of finals and the holidays can make it more difficult to focus.

When it comes to test anxiety, stress can sometimes feel overwhelming. Preparing ahead of time for the exam might be a given, but remembering to get a good night’s sleep and have a snack before the test are easy elements of success to overlook.

“If you’re questioning yourself during exams, recognize the negative thoughts and remind yourself of the positive,” suggests Imbimbo. “We need to be patient with ourselves and nice to ourselves.”

Exams and the holidays also bring a break from regular classes and work hours, which can be both relaxing but taxing. For some students, the holidays mean returning home while others spend winter break on campus.

“Establishing structure in your life during unstructured times is one of the major ways to control stress. You have to establish a routine,” says Judith Kaufman, professor of psychology and director of the Psy.D and M.A. programs in school psychology on the Metropolitan Campus.

Creating a routine will prove helpful during study sessions and throughout the long holiday break. That way, getting into the rhythm of the spring semester won’t feel so jarring.

Kaufman advises that students should try not to “do everything at once and give everything the same value.” Learn to prioritize, she says. Study for tomorrow’s test first, not the test three days from now. Buy a gift for early visitors before cleaning up for the company coming on Sunday, she suggests. “We have to be a little bit reflective and learn how to evaluate,” Kaufman continues.

“Don’t forget humor and laughter,” she concludes. “Without that, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

Fairleigh Dickinson University maintains a staff of professional counselors to help all full- and part-time students with educational and personal concerns through counseling and workshops. The free and confidential services are available weekdays and evenings by appointment.

S-CAPS is located at the corner of Lone Pine Lane and Residence Drive (behind University Court 8) on the Metropolitan Campus. Services at the College at Florham are available in the Wellness Center near the Danforth Road entrance to campus. Reach S-CAPS at 201-692-2174 and Counseling and Psychological Services at 973-443-8504.