Ask a Psychologist: Midterm stress

Dr. Chaz Mailey, psychologist for K-State Counseling Services, answers questions about sleep and how it affects school work and life. (File Photo by Nathan Jones | The Collegian) Photo credit: Nathan Jones

Ask A Psychologist is a continuing series of advice and discussion from Dr. Chaz Mailey, K-State Counseling Services psychologist, geared toward student-based questions and situations.

In our last column we focused on the topic of sleep, but what are some other healthy habits that should be emphasized around midterm time?

Mailey: “A lot of people wait until the day before or couple of days before their exam to start studying, with the expectation or hope that they’re going to retain all of that information, but I would recommend reviewing a reasonable time before that.

If you have an exam in three weeks, it’s probably not reasonable to start studying now, but definitely giving yourself four or five days. Trying to get physical activity during your breaks is also important, to get blood flow to the brain.

Sleep is again also important because if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re not retaining much. Sleep is when your body replays information so you can store it in your longer-term memory.

Eating fairly nutritious food is also important. You don’t have to have some extreme diet, but eating fast food can make you lethargic and make it more difficult to concentrate. You want to eat things where you aren’t feeling too heavy afterwards. Foods that are enriching for the body.”

Besides physical activity, what are some other things students can do to lower their stress levels?

Mailey: “Getting together with friends, and being reasonable about how much time you’re spending with friends.

For a lot of people, the last thing they want to do is read, but if there’s a book you enjoy that isn’t school related, that can be good. Even having some sort of hobby, that once you step away from your classwork, it’s something you can step away for a little bit and do.

Some people are really into artwork or working with their hands. There are also tons of do-it-yourself projects on Pinterest. Netflix is also a good way to decompress. Even just going to a place you consider relaxing, where you can clear your thoughts and maybe do some meditation.”

There’s those days and weeks where students can feel like they barely have enough time to eat, sleep and study, let alone find time to start a hobby. What do you suggest for those kind of days?

Mailey: “I would say we can always find time, especially if you’re diligent and good about managing your time. The question is how much time are you spending idling?

Maybe in that 20-30 minutes that you spend walking to class you can put headphones in and listen to something relaxing. Maybe you have an hour break in between classes. A workout doesn’t have to be two hours, even just 30 minutes of physical activity can be beneficial.

Also realizing that if you’re trying to stay up late to do more, it will be detrimental to you in the long term. Set a limit for yourself. Be consistent with your bed times. Get up at a decent time in the morning – you could use that time when you might try sleeping in to do some work, and you save time later in the day when you may not have as much mental energy and use that time to watch Netflix or hang out with friends. You have to know yourself and figure out what works for you.”

What would you say to those students that use alcohol as a stress relief method?

Mailey: “In moderation, alcohol is fine. Fine in the sense that alcohol does give you that sense of relaxation and euphoria. The problem is that alcohol really can, if you drink excessively, affect your sleep. You might think you passed out for a few hours, but really your body is working to get the alcohol out of your system. And you really aren’t getting very good rest, and you can be affected by that for several days after.

Also, think about the ways it can have an impact on retaining information. If you’re studying all day and then going to have a few drinks, you may impair your brain from storing that information. I’d suggest finding other strategies that are better for you to manage stress. If you have time to have a drink, you have time to do pushups in your room. In moderation, again, it’s okay. But, if your normal pattern is Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you can give up two of those days and find something else to do during those times with your friends without making alcohol the center.

And then don’t do drugs – drugs are bad.

I’d say just find your thing. Something that works for you to relieve stress. It’s a great time to start establishing hobbies – something you’re interested in and haven’t had time to try.”

You can send in your own topics or specific questions for future Ask A Psychologist columns through the Collegian’s social media pages, or email with your thoughts.