• Dr. Thom

Helping Your Student Come Down From Finals Week

Updated: Dec 27, 2019



Finals Week. Exam week. Dead meat week. Dead week (before finals). At famed Oxford University in England, the week is called "take schools week." Columbia University calls the week prior to finals "Reading Week" (presumedly as it is the last time to catch up on your academic reading). It's the Sharknado of academic stress: ridiculous, seemingly never-ending when you're in the middle of it, and afterwards you're still not sure why it keeps happening.



I remember my own finals weeks.


- Walking around with finals fuzz on my face (a condition created by being so preoccupied with exams that one cannot be bothered to shave). Given the current generation's love of facial hair, what used to be called a "study beard" is now impossible to distinguish from a "Random Tuesday beard."

- Eating was reduced to its most biological foundations. Whatever kept the circulatory system moving worked. I often lost count of how many subsequent meals were grilled cheese sandwiches. I may or may not have woken up with a spoonful of ramen in my mouth at one point.

- If it was raining outside while walking to a final, that counted as a shower - don't judge me.


My wife, Bridget, was part of Purdue Musical Organizations as an undergraduate. At that time, their annual PMO Christmas Show (six shows in one weekend) was right before finals. My wife still thinks of much of that time with PTSD-like memories.


BUT, there was nothing better in the world than walking out of that last final. It was a full body version of releasing a clench fist, a return of feeling followed by a warmth, and then the biggest exhale you can muster.


That's why I love how the University of Nebraska - Omaha (and many others) celebrates the end of finals with "De-Stress Fest" where students can emerge from their library cubicles, breathe easier, pet a puppy, do some yoga, and generally relax together.


Families of students descending from mount Finals Week can do this too. Sure, you can simply let your student sleep a bunch, and that would certainly help, but it's important to emphasize to them that dissipating anxiety and stress is a habit that depends largely on what you do; it is not simply the lack of external pressures. Your teen may be completely overcome with stress during finals week; next week, they could be sad because Netflix is removing The Last Jedi the day after Christmas. De-stressing is an action, not an inaction.


So here are some simple ideas to have your own family De-stress Fest, and yes, some of these are guaranteed to get an Olympic gold medal quality eye-roll (which for me, as a dad, is you know, bonus):


  • Family Tacky Christmas Light Tour: We're talking the ones with radio stations, lines of cars, and embarrassed neighbors. Being trapped in the family truckster tends to lead to conversations as well. Just sayin'.

  • Movie nights: It's a Wonderful Life or the Santa Clause on Amazon Prime or hit up White Christmas and Christmas with the Kranks on Netflix, light a fire in the fireplace, get some popcorn and put some feet up.

  • Raise the heart rate: the three best ways to decrease stress are to 1) talk it out, 2) write it out, and 3) do something that increases the heart's BPM.

  • School and college applications aren't taboo topics, just give it a minute. We teach families that avoidance of all stress isn't healthy and doesn't help. But periodic detachment is key to dealing with life's stressors. Celebrate with them for finishing up, and then let it lie. Breathe. It helps.

  • Plan a cookie crafternoon: With the holidays, there are all kind of decorations that can be put together and cooking that can be planned. Who doesn't love sugar cookies?

However you do it, plan some time to just let your student be, and help them learn the importance of managing stress as an activity, and one that can be mastered.


Not a GEC member? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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