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B-School Life

How to Survive Finals and Other Stress-Reducing Tips for MBAs

The year-end crunch of recruiting deadlines topped with final exams has reduced you to a puddle of nerves, incapable of changing out of your drool-stained hoodie (Go State), and rereading a corporate strategy case study for the 12th time while Parks & Rec reruns play in the background. Your concentration slips away—again.

There’s good news: You’re not the first MBA candidate to feel the weight of course demands and career anxieties. Most business schools have support systems to help you deal with the stress, including eager-to-help staff, meditation sessions, and events designed to give you a break.

There’s no guarantee you’ll find such warm support in the professional world. Besides, school is about new experiences, so it makes sense to figure out what stress relief methods work best for you. Ten years from now, you don’t want to find yourself seeking stress-relief in a bottle or taking out your worries on loving friends and family.

To help you function at your highest level and build good habits, Bloomberg Businessweek compiled some tips for getting through this stressful exam season.

Don’t be an island. Your classmates are going through the same experience, so don’t become a shut-in. Go to a study group or one of those fun events most B-schools have around this time of year. Being with others who share your plight is good for the brain as well as for building long-lasting relationships. Remember: There’s a difference between venting some anxieties and coming off as a whiner.

Don’t forget to sleep. That sleep deprivation saps cognitive ability is pretty well documented. The sleeping brain processes information and turns stress receptors off. To get your full eight hours, try enforcing a bedtime ritual or writing out a list of unfinished to-dos. If that’s not possible, try “multitask relaxing”—which is University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. David F. Dinges’s term for what us nonresearchers call the power nap.

Short-circuit stress. While we’re on the topic, don’t forget to take care of your mind and body in other ways. Eat right and exercise. Luke Froeb, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, advises students to get off campus before “your marginal productivity goes negative.” In other words, don’t overheat your engine. When you feel the steam rising to your ears, take a walk in the park.

Scale and perspective. Study groups are great, but don’t let an ace student in the group make you feel inadequate. Likewise, you don’t have to match the $375,000 starting salary that a Kellogg School of Management grad landed this year to be a success. No single exam has the potential to make or break you, Mark Zupan, dean of the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business, writes in an e-mail.

What’s done is done. Zupan also suggests not to obsess over that accounting exam you just finished. Major no-no: comparing answers with other students: “If one does this, one invariably finds out about one’s mistakes more quickly than one’s successes,” he writes. Move onto the next task, drink some eggnog, and deal with the consequences after you get your grades back in the new year.

Regarding the holidays. The good news about finals is that you’re that much closer to year-end parties, which can be a great way to blow off steam and build relationships (especially if you mind these dos and don’ts). After that, it’s likely home for the holidays, which can bring on a whole new set of anxieties. If your mom/uncle/successful older sibling won’t stop bugging you about your career prospects, bore them into submission by reciting your study notes for that accounting exam.

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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