Student smiles while a therapy dog gives her nose a kiss.

It’s Time for a Study Break! Six Ways to Unwind this Finals Season

With finals approaching, it’s hard to avoid tunnel-vision and the looming anxieties about exams and culminating projects. A psychology study at the University of Illinois, however, showed that participants who took occasional breaks from their task had an improved sense of focus and memory-retention, versus those who took no breaks. Giving your brain a break to re-energize and rest is productive, and it might even boost your grade!

It’s important to take the pressure off, and there are lots of resources on campus which can provide just the type of distraction you need.

Here are six specific ways to unwind during finals!


1. Take A Deep Breath

Meditation has been shown to decrease stress, increase focus and improve quality of sleep. But what if you’re not very familiar with meditation—how do you get started?

Illustration of someone listening to their phone playing Headspace, the meditation app.

All CMU students, faculty and staff can download and use the Headspace meditation app for free! Just login with your Andrew ID.


Headspace is a meditation app that informs users about the basics of meditation—how meditation can work depending on the individual, and how meditation can become daily practice. Unlike thousands of other “meditation apps” on the market, Headspace is unique in that it participates in constant, clinically-validated research on the effectiveness of its own app. Headspace has published 16 of its own studies, it’s referenced in 65 other research studies, and is currently partnered with prestigious scientific research institutions like Stanford University and University of Southern California.

For all these reasons, downloading this app is a good choice, but the decision is even easier to make considering CMU is now partnered with Headspace. Campus Wellness offers free Headspace subscriptions for all university students, faculty and staff, as part of a new initiative towards psychological wellness on campus.

If you’re new to meditation, Headspace offers a 10-day beginner’s course to get you started. As you use the app, you can tailor your experience to the sessions you like best, and how much time you have to spare. Some sessions are more guided, some are less guided. There are different meditation categories, too, for stress, anger, compassion, focus, sleep and more.

Ready to get started? To redeem your free subscription, just login with your Andrew ID.


2. Break a Sweat

Everyone knows that working out is healthy for our minds and bodies, but did you know that CMU offers a variety of free workout classes?

A group of students in an indoor cycling class.

Indoor cycling is just one of the many free fitness classes that CMU offers to students, faculty and staff. Visit their page for a full list and schedule!

Group Exercise, or Group-X, is a program at the university that’s evolved over the decades, and now offers 30-35 free weekly classes. Free fitness classes include: Zumba, kettlebell, HIIT (high intensity interval training), strength training, indoor cycling, yoga, combination strength and cardio classes, and kickboxing, to name a few. All you have to do is show your ID to the desk attendant, who will check you in for the class.

Not an avid gym-goer? If you feel clueless when it comes to exercise, classes with instructors to walk you through the process can lessen any initial anxieties or hesitations. And the social atmosphere of a class makes working out feel a lot less like “work,” and more about having fun.


3. Find A Fury Companion

Whenever you’re feeling down, there’s always one sure bet: spend some time with a dog! Dogs in particular have been shown to have wide-ranging, positive health effects on humans. Dogs are especially attuned to human behavior and emotions, so along with the obvious joys of owning a dog, there are many psychological and physical benefits to cozying up with a fury friend!

But what if you don’t have access to a pet? Most students don’t have the adequate resources or time management skills to be pet owners themselves. That’s where Paws to Relax comes in! Paws to Relax is a weekly program hosted by the Mindfulness Room. On Wednesdays from 7-8 p.m. in the Mindfulness Room, and on Saturdays from 1-2 p.m. in Morewood Gardens Maker Space B, registered Therapets are available for comfort and support. Local Pittsburgh animal shelter Animal Friends sends out its volunteers with pet dogs, and occasionally pet bunnies, so that students have a chance to relax and interact with the animals.

Student smiles while a therapy dog gives her nose a kiss.

Whenever you’re feeling down, there’s always one sure bet: spend some time with a dog!


4. Talk It Out

That stress you feel during busy times? You are not alone. Coming together with your peers or a professional to talk through stressful times, events and emotions can be very cathartic and healing. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) offers a safe, confidential environment for students to talk about personal or academic concerns. And all counseling center services are provided at no cost. Services at CaPS are developmental, aiming to serve students in moment and via follow-up sessions, which can help students grow and evolve over time.

Counseling and Psychological Services


Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS)  addresses the mental health needs of the CMU community through a variety of services. Learn more on their website.


Confidential services for students include consultation, short-term individual psychotherapy, crisis support and psychiatric referral when appropriate. Students interested in CaPS will have a consultation as their first encounter with a CaPS therapist. This means you’ll meet with a therapist, talk about a particular issue, and explore your options from there.

Visit the CaPs website if you have more questions about the types of services they provide and if it might be a good fit for you.


5. Eat a Meal with Friends

Even at the busiest times—or especially at the busiest times!—we need fuel to keep us going. It’s important to make time for friends and socializing, and nothing brings a group of people together more than a plate of good food! Studies have shown that eating alone too frequently can actually have detrimental health effects—all the more reason to gather around the table together!


The Underground, recently revamped over the summer, is a prime location for casual get-togethers and shareable food. Ordering a dessert favorite like The Ultimate Brownie or The Killer Cookie will satisfy a whole group of friends, and it’s a great excuse to focus on each other’s company.

But if you’re not socializing, and you just grabbing a quick bite—make sure you snack smart! Do you want easy meal options, and foods that can fuel your brain while studying? If so, there’s a lot of convenient superfood options right on campus.


6. Get Off Campus for a Bit

If you need an excuse to explore Pittsburgh, two amazing resources to check out are the Arts Pass and Pittsburgh Connections. By swiping your CMU ID at the following institutions, Arts Pass gives you free access to: The Carnegie Museum of Art (currently hosting the Carnegie International), The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Mattress Factory, The Carnegie Science Center, Phipps Conservatory, Heinz History Center and more.

A man in a red hoodie stands with his hands on his hips as he examines a painting of a skull


Andy Warhol was a Pittsburgh native and a Carnegie Mellon University alum. Visit the Andy Warhol Museum to learn more about him and his art!


If looking at exhibits isn’t your favorite thing to do, there’s also more active offerings available through Pittsburgh Connections. Each weekend during the school year, this program offers outdoor adventures with local recreation facilities at highly subsidized prices for students. Past trips have included whitewater rafting, kayaking, biking, hiking, paintball, horseback riding and skiing.


There’s a surprising variety of free activities and opportunities to take advantage of, and that’s important to remember when things get hectic!


What’s your favorite way to unwind?

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