In this article life coach Deb Levy explores three keys to success during stressful times. Levy is the principal of Coaching Is Good and a positive psychology instructor who leads workshops at Harvard Extension School on academic topics.


When it comes to keeping stress in check during challenging times, making a plan and asking for help are excellent practices. It’s also important to turn your focus inward, to be conscious of your thoughts, feelings, and energy level. Here’s how to do just that.

1. Manage Your Mood

Research has found that positive emotions help you learn more effectively, work more creatively, and solve problems with greater ease. They also improve your health, relationships, and ability to cope with stress.

Unfortunately, activities that bring joy, pleasure, and relaxation are the first to go during finals. Be smart. Prioritize exercise, socializing, and other activities that improve your mood. Consider them a part of your academic preparation and not a form of procrastination.

2. Cultivate the Right Mindset

Achieving your academic goals (or any goal for that matter) takes a lot of effort, determination, and the right mindset.

Focus on what you want to learn instead of what grade you want to achieve. Remember, it’s about growth, not validation.

Many students can sabotage their efforts by harboring distorted thoughts. Learn to recognize catastrophic thinking: “If I don’t pass this class my life will be ruined.” Avoid all-or-nothing thinking: “If I can’t put my full effort into the project I’m not going to do any of it.” If you can be mindful of your thoughts, you can veer back to optimism.

Finals stress is temporary. Establish learning goals for challenging assignments. And focus on what you want to learn instead of what grade you want to achieve. Remember, it’s about growth, not validation.

3. Get Enough Sleep

At some point we’ve all probably pulled an all-nighter to prepare for a test. But research has found that eight hours of sleep will improve your concentration and performance. Of course, with so many additional tasks to complete during finals, it’s hard to get enough sleep, especially if you have been sleep deprived all semester. But it’s worth it. Sleep will help you work smarter instead of harder.

Be a Student-Fully!

For many students I coach, the end of the semester is the only time of year that they will allow themselves to fully be a student. By making a plan and asking for help (read my blog post), then attending to your mood, mindset, and sleep, you’ll be well-equipped to end the semester on a positive note.

Good luck!