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Midterm season: How students can manage their mental health while studying for exams

The Lantern
As midterm season approaches, many students find a second home in the Thompson Library reading rooms. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

Camden Puscheck said in the first week back from spring break, he had four midterms in three days and spent countless hours preparing for them.

“This has been the most stressful week that I’ve had as a college student,” Puscheck said.

Puscheck, a second-year in economics, said regulating one’s mental state during weeks stacked heavily with exams is important because stress can have a major effect on performance.

“In my experience, if you’re not in a good place mentally, you may not be motivated to prepare well for tests and exams,” Puscheck said. “When I’m not feeling mentally strong, I find myself very unmotivated. So, that definitely plays a part in my academic success, particularly with test taking.”

Most students can take care of themselves during a regular week, although many experience significant changes in mental health when faced with exams, Harry Warner, a mental health counselor at Ohio State, said.

“Addressing stress and mental health concerns is so important because they can act as barriers to students’ goals,” Warner said. “In both academic and personal spheres, if a student is stressed out, it’s really hard for them to focus on what they want to do in life, and reducing this stress is vital to improving mental health.”

Warner said when students are faced with a stressor — such as an exam or test — self-care becomes less prioritized.

“Are you sleeping seven or eight hours a night? Are you eating regularly and getting enough nutrition? Are you staying in contact with people that make you feel cared for and connected?” Warner said. “These are some of the routines every student should try to practice, even during busy weeks or exams.”

Warner said conducting these practices daily can have a major role in improving students’ mental health.

Being well-prepared before and practicing relaxing during the exam are two steps students can take to improve their mental health prior to an exam, Warner said.

“Relaxation is so important because our cognitive abilities are better when our bodies are relaxed, we’re able to use more of our brain in this state of mind,” Warner said.

Warner said diaphragmatic breathing — using the large, dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs to breathe, according to the Cleveland Clinic — is a technique someone can use to help lower their blood pressure and heart rate.

Puscheck said balancing daily responsibilities and managing time efficiently is key to stress management during exams.

“My main strategy to stay mentally healthy during exams involves having short one- or two-hour study sessions where I focus and eliminate distractions for that brief interval of time,” Puscheck said. “The strategy allows me to get a lot done and be productive while also taking time in between for breaks and other activities.”

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