Getting Through the Stress of Finals

Students studying at tableThe end of the semester is approaching, and that means final exams are on the horizon. This can be a very stressful time for many of us, since exams often count for a significant portion of the final grade, and there’s everything else going on in our lives on top of that. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce your stress levels that won’t only keep you sane; they might even help you do better on your exams. Here are some of the ways that you can reduce your stress while preparing for final exams.

Exercise

The benefits of regular exercise include strengthening your bones and muscles, managing your blood sugar and insulin levels, and reducing your risk of heart disease, to name only a few things. Did you know that exercise can also lower your stress levels? According to the Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever, and it does this in a few ways:

  • It increases your body’s production of endorphins, which are the feel-good neurotransmitters commonly attributed to the runner’s high.
  • It causes you to concentrate on your body’s movements, driving out the thoughts that are stressing you through singular focus, similar to meditation.
  • It can increase your self-confidence, relax you, and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety, all of which will improve your mood.

If you want to use exercise as a stress reliever, the main thing is that you find an exercise that you enjoy doing. Whether it’s running, weight training, yoga, playing a sport, or even dancing, if it’s an activity that gets your body moving, it will aid in reducing the stress you’re feeling. If you’ve got the time and are on the main campus, you can visit the ACC Fitness Center in the Annex building, which has equipment that students can use for free when you swipe your student ID card.

Diet

Having a well-balanced diet, one that contains a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, is essential to living a healthy lifestyle. While the occasional fast food outing or snack run isn’t going to ruin your diet, reaching for a cheeseburger or bag of chips might not be the best option while you’re studying. In fact, according to UCLA’s Explore Integrative Medicine site, there are certain foods and other supplements that can aid in lowering your stress levels by strengthening your immune system, stabilizing your mood, and reducing blood pressure. Here are some nutrients that can help to reduce your stress, and some foods that contain them:

  • Vitamin C – lowers your levels of cortisol (a major stress hormone) and your blood pressure during high-anxiety situations.
    • Citrus fruits, pineapple, broccoli, tomatoes.
  • Complex Carbohydrates – Increases serotonin production (which contributes to well-being and happiness) and stabilizes blood pressure.
    • Whole grains, fruits, vegetables.
  • Magnesium – Useful for avoiding headaches and fatigue, relieving premenstrual mood changes, and improving sleep quality.
    • Leafy greens, salmon, soy beans/edamame.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Reduces surges of stress hormones and promotes protection against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
    • Tuna, salmon, pistachios, almonds.

Some common comfort foods can also give you benefits. A bit of dark chocolate not only relieves stress, but can improve your cognitive function and mood, while oatmeal can reduce your levels of stress hormones and boost your serotonin. If you enjoy drinking tea, you can benefit from chamomile, which relieves stress-induced symptoms, mint, which relieves stress and induces calmness, and barley, which relaxes the body by improving serotonin synthesis. If you’d like to pick up a healthy snack or some tea ahead of your finals, the Espresso Yourself Café on the Main Building’s first floor offers a wide range of items that have stress-relieving benefits, and will be open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm before and during finals week.

Meditation

According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, meditation as a practice is used “for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance…and enhancing overall health and well-being.” In trials and studies, it has been determined that a particular form, mindfulness meditation, shows evidence of improving anxiety, depression, and even insomnia. Here are a couple of ways that you can practice mindfulness meditation:

  • Remain aware and present in the moment – don’t let the past or future concern you, pay attention to your current surroundings without judgment.
  • Breath awareness – take slow, deep breaths, count the number of seconds you spend breathing, and ignore any thoughts that enter your head. Focus only on your own breathing.

Meditation has an advantage in that it can be done just about anywhere, and you can employ some of the breathing techniques while you’re taking your exams. One technique, called 4-7-8 breathing, is to slowly breathe in for four seconds, hold that breath for seven seconds, and then slowly exhale for eight, and repeat at least three more times, or until you’re feeling relaxed.

Sleep

Sleep and stress both influence each other. When we get the necessary amount of restful sleep per night, our stress levels on average are lower, but when we’re stressed, it becomes harder to get that good night’s rest. On top of that, stress can lead to insomnia, further making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. So what can you do to get the sleep that will help lower your stress and get you well rested for exams? The National Sleep Foundation offers these tips:

  • Exercise – releases both physical and mental tensions. Recommended at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Downtime – avoid electronics and work-related, stimulating, or stressful activities. Do calming activities such as reading, light stretching, or listening to calming music. Recommended 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
  • Decompression techniques – deep breathing, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation. Recommended five to 10 minutes before bedtime.

Other ways that you can get to sleep more easily include not eating within one to two hours before bedtime, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, drinking herbal teas containing chamomile, valerian, or lavender, and aromatherapy.

Time Management

Between school, work, social time, and personal time, we’re trying to juggle a lot of events both in our lives and with other people’s lives, which contributes to a lot of our stress. Knowing how to effectively manage that time can help to eliminate some of that stress. The McGraw Center for Teaching & Learning at Princeton University has come up with ten principles derived from research on time management, motivation theory, and experience working with university students that can help you effectively plan out your time. Here is the abridged version:

  1. Commitment – Only schedule tasks if you’re going to do them.
  2. Pursue fun – Make time for the things you enjoy doing, and organize your academic and other obligations around those commitments to fun.
  3. Time vs. task focus – Devote time to important tasks, and set your purpose for those tasks.
  4. One thing at a time – Current research shows that what we consider to be multi-tasking is actually switching back and forth between tasks, which takes more time and energy.
  5. Block out time – Devote chunks of time to specific classes, and make those chunks a part of your regular schedule.
  6. First things first – Schedule the most important tasks to do first thing in the day, or as early as possible.
  7. Routine – With good habits in place, you don’t have to make as many hard decisions, and are less likely to make unproductive ones.
  8. Flexibility – Leave empty time slots for when your schedule changes, and schedule in recreation time.
  9. Respond vs. react – When faced with a decision to diverge from your schedule, pause and take a moment to think about it, then remember what’s most important to you and do what will help you get it.
  10. Organize your environment – Minimize distraction, maximize focus, use physical reminders, enlist the aid of friends for studying, and ask them not to call or text you when you need the time for your tasks.

Since study time should be on your agenda, here are some tips when studying for exams:

  • Review your notes often to familiarize yourself with the content.
  • Give yourself short breaks every 20-30 minutes to give your brain a chance to process the material.
  • Avoid cramming right before your exam.

Lastly, be sure to include enough time in your schedule to get to class at least five minutes early. Take into account how long your commute time is in the worst-case scenario so that you can don’t find yourself stuck on the road when your exam starts.

Whether you try one of these methods or all of them, each method has a positive influence on the effectiveness of the others, so try whichever ones fit your wants and needs and experiment. There are many other ways that you can reduce your stress as well. One such way is through the Denver Pet Partners Therapy Dog event, being held this May 6th from 11:30 – 1:30 in the library on the second floor of ACC’s main building. The library will also be offering healthy grab ‘n go snacks and extending their hours that week, giving you more opportunities to practice beneficial stress relief before finals begin.

Good luck to all of you on your exams!

by Martin Strom, ACC Copywriter

Winners of the 2019 Writers Studio Literary Contest Announced

The Writers Studio Literary Contest is an annual contest held by the Creative Writing department at Arapahoe Community College, in conjunction with our literary and arts journal, Progenitor. While we try to advertise, we rely on word-of-mouth to keep our contest and the Writers Studio Author Series going.

The contest is competitive and open to all Colorado residents. It is $12 to submit, $8 for students. Competitive genres include fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry.

We are pleased to announce this year’s winners from a highly competitive field:
Fiction: “El Gato” by Kate Niles
Poetry: “Contact” by Heather Wheat
Creative Nonfiction: “In a Teacher’s Shoes” by ACC student Renata Dolz

The winners receive a cash prize, a Pushcart Nomination, and publication in the 2019 Progenitor, ACC’s Literary and Arts Journal.

Save the Date! The release party of the Progenitor is Tuesday, May 7th, at 3:30pm in the Colorado Gallery of Arts at ACC.

Please read below for judges’ comments. Judges’ bios and qualifications follow that.


1st place Fiction: “El Gato” by Kate Niles

Judge Christopher Merkner’s comments:
“El Gato” concludes with three striking words, which the speaker attributes to the famed American poet, May Sarton: “Let me in.” This request, this beseeching, this imperative is just a lovely way to end any story, honestly, but it is particularly meaningful in this powerful slice-of-life story of humanity’s inability to fully connect or know itself or its world. In eight deft, gorgeously shaped pages, “El Gato” brings us intimately close to the American West, to American history, to American industry and capitalism, to an American disconnect with its people — and somehow this story manages to do this all through one sad and sick and dying cat who prowls through the lives of this story’s characters. It’s a remarkable feat to use an animal so wisely, so strategically, in short fiction, and the speaker of the story seems to fully understand this. She sees — as the author must — the sick and dying cat in all of us, as we desperately seek to be let into the lives of others, and as we hope that others will ask us to let them into our own.

Kate Niles Bio: I live in Durango, CO and hold an MFA from Vermont College. I’ve published two novels, a book of poetry, and numerous pieces in magazines throughout the country. I am the recipient of the Colorado Individual Artist Fellowship and ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award for fiction.


1st place Poetry: “Contact” by Heather Wheat

Judge Joe Hutchison’s (Colorado’s Poet Laureate) comments:
“Contact” presents a mildly dramatic external situation—a mother (the poem’s speaker) giving her daughter cosmetic assistance by stripping hair off of the girl’s upper lip—alongside the mother’s intense inner drama. The inner drama keeps pulling the mother out of the physically and emotionally painful present into even more painful moments in her past. These flashbacks illuminate the present pain and hint at a larger reality: the fact that the daughter, like the trees the mother sees out the window at the end, is beginning to bloom. The blooming is both painful and beautiful, and so is the poem.

Heather Wheat’s Bio: 
Heather Wheat is a mother, wife, daughter, writer, teacher, book-lover, reader. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Long Exposure Magazine, on GFT Press’s “Ground Fresh Thursday” web series, in GFT Press: One in Four, and in Broad! Magazine; her other work and essays are on BUST.com, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, in Richmond Magazine, and on The Washington Post’s education blog.


1st Place Creative Nonfiction: “In a Teacher’s Shoes” by Renata Dolz

Judge Steven Dunn’s comments:
To quote the story: “Here is the joy of teaching interspersed with equal parts pain and frustration.” The narrator accomplishes this through the use of the first-person-present tense, which places the reader in “real-time” so we can feel the joys and frustrations without the filter of rose-colored wise retrospection. We are in the mess, at the moment, just like the teacher. Another aspect I appreciate about this story, is that the narrator isn’t as important as the students—the students share the space on the page as they would in the classroom. In this way, this story and the narrator doesn’t feel the need to center themselves and/or their whiteness in such an ethnically and racially diverse classroom. This story is not the same old white-savior teacher narratives we’ve seen so much of over the decades. Such a joy to read for its personal and political intimacies. Thank you for your service, honor, and vulnerability.

Renata Dolz’s Bio: Renata (ACC student) is a mother of two college-aged daughters, a former marketing executive, artist and writer who believes in the power of the written word to inspire, teach and heal. 

Her piece, “In a Teacher’s Shoes”, was prompted by a recent, first-time experience as a guest teacher in a Title 1 DPS school – during the recent teacher’s strike. It is her belief that no one – be they a parent, a state representative or administrator, can fully appreciate the challenges and educational needs of our public schools until they have walked in a teacher’s shoes.


JUDGES

The judges for each genre, listed below, were also presenters at ACC’s Literary Festival, “A Day with Denver’s Stalwarts and Rising Stars,” which took place on Saturday, April 13th.

Fiction Judge: Chris Merkner

Christopher Merkner is the author of the story collection The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic, winner of the Colorado Book Award 2015 (editor’s note: and also—hilarious). His stories have been reprinted in the O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Mystery Stories anthologies, and most recently in the W.W. Norton anthology, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. Merkner is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver.

Creative Nonfiction Judge: Steven Dunn

Steven Dunn is the author of the novels Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2016) and water & power (Tarpaulin Sky 2018). He was born and raised in West Virginia, and after 10 years in the Navy, he earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.

Some of his work can be found in Columbia Journal, Granta Magazine, and Best Small Fictions 2018.

Steven is integral to Denver’s writing community, highlighted by his reading series, The Art of Storytelling at Prodigy Coffeehouse. Mr. Dunn is also a member of Mile High MFA’s faculty.

Poetry Judge: Joe Hutchison

Joseph Hutchison, Colorado Poet Laureate (2014-July 2019), is the author of 17 poetry collections, including The World As Is: New & Selected Poems, 1972-2015; Eyes of the Cuervo/Ojos del Crow (a bilingual limited edition), and a collection of three longish historical narrative poems entitled Marked Men. He has edited three poetry anthologies, translated the flash fiction of Mexico City author Miguel Lupián, and published poems, fiction (short and flash), creative nonfiction, and literary essays in over 100 journals in five countries. At the University of Denver’s University College, he directs two Master’s programs, Professional Creative Writing and Arts & Culture Management. A native of Denver, Joe lives in the mountains southwest of the city with his wife, Iyengar yoga instructor Melody Madonna.

by Jamey Trotter

Take Advantage of Summer Classes

woman working at computerWe’re intimately familiar with taking classes from the fall through spring. For most of us, this has been the way we’ve gone to school since we were children, and most likely, you looked forward to the summer break eagerly. It was the time where many of us were free of the obligations of homework and were able to pursue our own interests, whether it was group activities, hanging out with friends, relaxing at home with a video game, movie, or book, or for anyone at least aged 16, starting your first job to earn some spending money. For many students though, summer was a time to take extra classes.

There are many reasons why we might have taken summer classes in high school: improving our grades, taking specialized classes, and very commonly now, to prepare for college. These are valid reasons at the high school level, but why should you take summer classes at the college level? Unlike high school, in college we have greater flexibility in choosing which classes we take, and when we want to take them. So let’s examine some of the advantages of spending time in the classroom during the summer.

  1. Spread the workload

    If you’re planning to get through school in the 2- to 4-year time frame, that means you have to average 15 credits a semester; in other words, up to five classes per. But let’s say you take two of those classes during the summer? That would reduce your average semester workload by a fifth, giving you more time to study for the other four classes and potentially increasing your grade in those classes, which can open the way to GPA-based scholarships and grants. More free time during regular semesters also means more opportunities to earn income, if you’re working while attending school.

  1. Earn your degree faster

    This is not an undertaking to be taken lightly; summer classes are typically shorter than fall and spring classes, but they also contain the same amount of course work. However, for dedicated students working to get their Associate of Applied Science degrees to enter the workforce, taking summer courses on top of a regular class load can potentially let them graduate a semester early. This means more time spent in the profession of your choosing, leading to greater opportunities for advancing your career.

  1. Save some money

    If you’re attending a 4-year university, you know that the cost of classes is much higher than attending a community college. Fortunately, earned credits can transfer, and with Colorado Guaranteed Transfer Courses, summer courses at a community college can also be a great way to take care of your general education classes while spending less at your home institution. As an added advantage, this allows you to focus more time on the courses related to your major while you’re at university.

Whether you’re going to a 2- or 4-year institution, attending college is a great way to advance your career and your life, and summer classes are one of the ways to help you do this. If you’re interested in taking summer classes at ACC, registration opened March 26 for Maymester, 8-week, and 10-week classes.

by Martin Strom, ACC Copywriter