Relaxation and meditation helps students’ stress during exams

Faculty member Karen Lawson recommends students take frequent breaks while studying.

With the semester’s end nearing, most students face finals, papers, projects and for some, finding a job after graduation.

Pile all these together, and it can cause serious stress, which can lead to other health issues such as depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system.

But with a few helpful hints and classes offered at the University, students can blissfully, or at least calmly, deal with life’s issues and get some studying done.

Terry Pearson, a mindfulness-based stress reduction instructor at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University, said it’s important to take a five-minute break every day.

She suggested lying on the floor and becoming aware of the body to reduce stress.

This helps a person think of something besides what they need to do or are afraid they can’t do, Pearson said.

Pearson suggested following the Relaxation Response, a program created by Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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It includes sitting quietly in a comfortable position and finding a focus word to repeat, then relaxing every muscle.

Students should say their focus word as they breathe in and out, stopping the mind from wandering back to stressful thoughts.

Pearson said this should be done twice a day for five minutes each time.

“That five minutes would be better than a nap if they could just relax their minds,” she said.

Karen Lawson, faculty member at the Center for Spirituality and Healing, said students need to take a break every hour while studying.

They can do anything from stretching to jumping jacks, she said.

During the crunch of finals, what students eat also affects stress levels.

Pearson said students should be eating fruits and vegetables while studying, instead of candy bars and foods high in sugar.

Lawson said students also need to minimize the amount of stimulants, like coffee, they put in their body.

The state a person studies in is the same state they need to take the test in, Lawson said. So in theory, if a person studied drunk, they’d need to take the test drunk.

It’s also tempting to drink coffee or soda all night, but caffeine just makes a person more alert, not better with memory, she said.

Sleep deprivation also is not a good idea.

Even when studying and tired, instead of trying to push through, it’s better for students to set an alarm and take a half-hour nap, Lawson said.

Changing the scenery can also keep a student focused while reducing stress.

When the weather is nice, take the books outside, she said, or even just moving to another room will help maximize studying and retention.

“Do things to keep the brain stimulated,” Lawson said.

The club, Mindfulness for Students, is one resource where students can attend classes for free to learn different meditative techniques.

Miki Dezaki, a physiology senior, started the group two years ago with Alex Haley.

A different instructor comes to the meeting every Friday to guide students through whatever their expertise is.

“We like to have different instructors so students can learn different ways of meditation and different ways of relieving stress,” he said.

Last week, Chi Sing, the founder of Interfaith Mindfulness Ministries, came to guide a group of 15 students through walking meditation.

All of the exercises are intended to make people more aware of themselves.

“Meditation is more of a way of being aware of your problems, your body and your stress,” Dezaki said.