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Stressed out about exams? Help is available

[Stress resources]
Liz Parsons, Learning Strategist at Student Academic Success Services (SASS), left, and Kate Humphrys, Health Promotion Coordinator at Health Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), are just two of the people at Queen’s University providing support for students feeling stress. (University Communications)

While stress may be part of university life, for most members of the Queen’s community it is more prevalent at exam time.

Whether you are a freshman facing your first major test or a battle-hardened senior, the stress of facing a battery of final exams can be daunting.

Fortunately, you are not alone and Queen’s University offers a number of resources to help manage stress levels. Kate Humphrys, Health Promotion Coordinator at Health Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), and Liz Parsons, Learning Strategist at Student Academic Success Services (SASS), are on the frontlines of helping the Queen’s community deal with stress.

While stress is a complex issue, there are steps that can help manage it at exam time.

The first thing to do is to get organized.

Ms. Parsons says that she sees 25 students a week on average and the number goes up as exam time draws closer. Hundreds of students also attend special pre-exam workshops in Stauffer Library set up by SASS.

Her job is to help students develop a plan that works for them.

“One of the big things I notice around exams is there are a lot of questions around feeling overwhelmed: How do I study for exams? There’s too much to study. Where do I start?” she says.

She goes through a checklist with the students and they work together to create a study plan. This often involves the Exam Study Schedule, which is available online.

The strength of the schedule is in the simplicity. In a high-tech world, sometimes the best way to get organized is by writing it all down on paper.

It’s not all about studying and exams. As Ms. Parsons points out, breaks are an important part of the daily schedule with two breaks of two hours each placed between three study periods of three hours each. It’s also vital to get some quality sleep.

“One of the things we really encourage students to do is to schedule in and prioritize that break time and sleep time because often students are feeling stressed, they are pressed for time and they do sacrifice sleep and breaks,” she says. “That ends up being quite detrimental in a lot of different ways.”

Lack of sleep reduces your ability to retain information, your mental capacity and your ability to withstand stress, she points out. Studies show that after 18 hours without sleep your mental ability is the same as someone who is legally drunk. That’s just not a good way to approach an exam.

At the heart of Health Promotion’s’ efforts to promote well-being during exams, Ms. Humphrys explains, is an initiative called the “15 Days of Exams Health Challenge.”

Now in its fourth year, the challenge is an opportunity for students to take notice of their health when it typically isn’t a priority. Proper eating, being active, and using strategies to help mental health are also keys to managing stress during exams.

Each day throughout the exam period there is a different challenge posted through social media to encourage students to try simple healthy activities.

There’s also a question for students to respond to online each day, such as what you had for breakfast or what you did on a study break. Ms. Humphrys says that last year they received up to 150 answers to a single question. Students who choose to share ideas and successes are entered into a daily prize draw, with prizes donated from campus and community partners, such as Athletics and Recreation, The Tea Room and Tara Natural Foods.

It’s about engagement and social learning as much as it is education. 

“Even if students don’t post themselves, they can still see what their peers are doing to stay healthy during exams, and might get some new ideas to try themselves,” she says.

The diversity of the challenges speak to Health Promotion’s commitment to promoting a broad view of what it means to be healthy.

“One of the things we really try to emphasize, both with this contest and with all our work in Health Promotion is the idea that health is more than just your physical body – your mental health and your social health are also very important to your overall well-being,”she says. “During exams, taking the time to take care of your health by considering all these interconnected areas is important. It’s very important to eat well, get enough sleep and stay active, and we also encourage people to take care of their mental health and social health too.  Maintaining connections with others who are important in your life – that could be a walk with a friend, or a phone call with someone outside Kingston – can be a very effective way to manage stress.”

Finding what works best for you to manage stress is also important.

“If a student feels very overwhelmed or the level of stress they are experiencing means that they are not able to function well, then it’s time to make some changes and reach out for some support. Counselling Services, SASS or the AMS Peer Support Centre are all good resources available to students,” Ms. Humphrys says.

Another resource available for students is Good 2 Talk, a 24/7/365 post-secondary student helpline which offers free, professional and anonymous support. They can be reached at 1-866-925-5454 to talk about any stressful issues students might be experiencing.

The end of term can also be a stressful time for faculty and staff as workloads increase.

The Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provided for all Queen’s staff and faculty by Homewood Human Solutions is a good place to turn for help. They offer a number of services, including online resources, confidential counselling and support for life balance and health issues. Human Resources also offers a number of wellness programs for staff and faculty in partnership with Athletics and Recreation, such as ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions, low-cost physical activity options and a walking club.

If you are a student and feeling stressed about academics, you can book a Learning Strategies advising appointment by calling 613-533-6315.

Students who wish to make an appointment with Counselling Services can do so by calling 613-533-6000, ext. 78264. Embedded counsellors are located in various faculty and university buildings across campus: Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science (613-533-3447), Faculty of Education (613-533-2334), School of Graduate Studies (613-533-2136), School of Business (via Commerce Portal), Residence Counsellors (613-533-6000, ext. 78330 or 78034), the School of Medicine (613-533-6000, ext. 78264), and the Outreach Counsellor/Student Advisor in the JDUC (613-533-6000, ext. 78441).

Staff and Faculty can contact the Queen’s EFAP at 1-800-663-1142 or online at homewoodhumansolutions.com.