If You Suffer from OCD, Anxiety, or Perfectionism, Don’t Let School Finals Derail Your Mental Health! Here’s How.
With summer just around the corner, many college students are gearing up for final exams. Students can anticipate weeks of sleepless nights, mental fatigue, and test anxiety. While finals are hard for all students, for those neurodivergent individuals with learning distractions such as OCD, anxiety, or perfectionism, school finals testing can feel like living a nightmare.
During this demanding time, it is critical to remember; don’t let finals week derail your mental health! Take the time to study – but also take the time to care for yourself and your mental wellness.
Practicing healthy stress management and coping skills will provide you with the tools you need to make the most of your learning experience; and to survive your finals. If you suffer from OCD, anxiety, and/or perfectionism, here are some finals week strategies to employ so that you can study more effectively without sacrificing your mental health.
Why Do OCD, Anxiety, and Perfectionism Make Studying Difficult?
The mind of a neurodivergent individual is often operating on so many levels that it can be difficult to focus with traditional or neurotypical learning methods. Individuals dealing with symptoms of OCD, anxiety, or perfectionism may have difficulty studying for finals because these symptoms interfere with their ability to engage with or execute a task. The symptoms of OCD, anxiety, or perfectionism can feel overwhelming and negatively impact your ability to concentrate, retain information, meet deadlines, manage your workload, and excel in challenging situations– such as a final exam.
OCD: How You Can Manage OCD Symptoms During Finals
Knowing how to manage your OCD symptoms during finals week can make all the difference.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a neuropsychiatric illness that may cause distress until a certain repetitive or ritualistic behavior has been performed. OCD symptoms may include intrusive thoughts and nagging compulsions that interfere with daily life, such as skin picking, mental checking, contamination fears, a need for symmetry or order, disturbing urges, or excessive doubting.
Although many students with OCD have above-average intelligence, they may find it impossible to succeed with neurotypical study plans and learning techniques. Here are some tried and true methods to help you survive your finals with OCD:
1. Know your triggers.
If you find yourself losing time to compulsions, it’s a good idea to identify your triggers. Create a list of triggers that you experience in a day and note the corresponding reaction. Rank the accompanying feeling of fear or anxiety and try to examine it objectively. Knowing your triggers is the first step in managing obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
2. Stick to the routine.
College students with OCD may have problems with time management and realistic expectations. Once you find a learning system that works for you, you can sit back and rely on routine! By taking a proactive approach to finals week, college students can learn how to anticipate triggers and lessen opportunities for distractions like repetitive compulsions or intrusive thoughts.
3. Sweat it out.
While exercise is not a replacement for cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s a great way to reduce your OCD symptoms. Starting your day with a little sweat promotes the release of feel-good neurochemicals, which fend off the feelings of anxiousness and stress that can trigger compulsive or repetitive behaviors.
4. Know when to redirect and relax.
When you catch yourself reading the same sentence repeatedly, you know there’s not much learning going on. Take a moment and simply stop. When studying for final exams, it’s equally important to know when to redirect your attention and relax. Sometimes what you need the most is a break. Take a walk, close your eyes, get up, and stretch.
At night, make it your mission to set sleep priorities. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep increases obsessions the next day. Work on a good night’s sleep by eliminating or reducing screen time, try meditation or do some light reading just before bedtime.
Anxiety: How You Can Manage Your Anxiety Symptoms During Finals Week
Anxiety is a common mental health disorder that includes fears, worries, or phobias that make it difficult to perform daily tasks. Anxiety symptoms may include sweating, rapid heart rate, fatigue, and restlessness.
Experiencing a little anxiety before a big test is completely normal. In fact, test anxiety can increase test performance by heightening awareness and contributing to the ideal environment for hyperfocus. But high levels of anxiety and poor stress management skills can lead to severe physical, emotional, and mental symptoms.
f you’ve been experiencing symptoms of anxiety, learning the right stress management and coping skills is crucial to your academic success. Here are a few things you can try:
1. Have a designated study spot.
Choose a quiet, accessible study spot over which you have some control. If your study session depends on how busy the library is or how loud your roommates can be, find a space intended for hyperfocus and productivity. Reserve a booth at your library or find a quiet place to be alone.
2. Practice a pre-test routine.
If thinking about finals makes you anxious, shift your thinking to classify your final exam as another step in your routine. Establish a pre-test routine filled with positive reinforcements for yourself, like getting coffee at your favorite coffee spot, walking along a favorite route, and stopping in to see a favorite person, followed by a visit to your designated study spot or even to take your test. Creating positive reinforcements will help you to relax a little and make the experience less traumatic.
3. Make nutrition a priority by treating yourself.
There’s no question that an empty stomach can make any situation more dire, and final exams are not an exception. Make nutrition a priority during finals week by treating yourself! It can boost our serotonin to splurge on a morning coffee or tea, but you can treat yourself any way you choose. Have a healthy, wholesome snack at home first, or try something new for a little excitement. Remember not to let your blood sugar dip as that will male your anxiety much worse.
Perfectionism: Managing Your Perfectionism During Finals Week
When a person suffers from perfectionism, they might look high achieving, but in reality, it can take a serious toll on an individual’s physical or mental health. Perfectionism makes it impossible to maintain a healthy balance because it requires a strict need for control. Symptoms of perfectionism can look like an exaggerated fear of failure, difficulty letting go of mistakes, or anger or depression with a loss of control.
When failing to attain perfection makes you unhappy with a failed sense of achievement, the result can be anxiety or depression; and can even manifest as an eating disorder or self-harm. Since perfection is simply unattainable, it is critical that you employ some of the following survival techniques during finals:
1. Celebrate your efforts over your results. Overcome the urge to “get it just right” by highlighting your academic effort and hard work over the end result. Be sure not to overwork yourself in the process and establish realistic expectations by setting time limits for your efforts.
2. Widen your definition of success.
Combat the harsh standards of perfectionism by widening the definition of success. Make a point to celebrate social milestones and acknowledge your own personal accomplishments. Celebrate your hard work. You EARNED it!
3. Creating a study plan that supports your mental health
- Make organization interesting.
- Integrate rewards into your reviewing process.
- Recognize the strengths of a neurodivergent perspective.
- Work backward. By focusing on the end result, you can target key information more effectively. Identify the blanks you need to fill in and use that information to direct your reading and inform your research.
Whether You Suffer From OCD, Anxiety, or Perfectionism, Remember to Be KIND to Yourself
If you are in some kind of school, finals will be part of life. The stress of finals will be unavoidable, and you will experience some discomfort. With planning and knowledge, you CAN get through it.
Whether you suffer from OCD, anxiety, or perfectionism, practicing healthy stress management and coping skills will provide you with the tools you need to make the most of your learning experience and to survive your finals.
Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month with us!
Located in Columbia / Soda City in South Carolina, New Hope Counseling and Wellness Center is all about providing a safe space for trauma-informed care. We’re passionate about teaching young adults and college students how to advocate for themselves and nurture their mental health. At New Hope, we know that dealing with symptoms of OCD, anxiety, and perfectionism can make studying for a final exam seem overwhelming and even impossible. But knowing how to recognize and manage these symptoms can elevate your academic experience and enlighten your personal journey! New Hope offers eating disorder treatment, mental health counseling, PTSD therapy, and support during finals week – our licensed therapists and counselors are standing by.