Finals week is Dec. 12-16, and many students will be hitting the books. But let’s face it, studying for exams, writing essays and completing final projects can be stressful for many. The Chronicle staff talked to students, faculty and staff about managing stress and maintaining a positive mental health.
Q&A with Joanne Cummingham, assistant adjunct professor, teaches health psychology and adult development & aging and abnormal psychology at Quinnipiac.
Q: What is stress from a psychological perspective?
A: Basically in terms of the way that it is conceptualized in psychology, it’s an event, something happens, and then it’s also an interpretation. So it’s not just what happens but how we interpret that action and then the physiological consequences that come about as a result of that. So stress is, in terms of the way it’s conceptualized in psychology, it’s not just an event or the interpretation of the event and then also our assessment of how we can cope with it, if we say that it is somehow dangerous to or poses as a threat to us.
Q: What are some of the primary causes of stress among college students?
A: There’s acute stress and there’s chronic stress. In terms of acute stress, it’s usually brief duration, and mild acute stress can actually serve us as much as it focuses us and arouses us and so that with exams you can see that right before, people have the tendency… their stress level goes up and as long as it’s a manageable level, it can actually work to their benefit. Then the thing that’s really most debilitating is this notion of chronic stress, which is just an ongoing process where it just never quite dysregulates.
At this time of year, [there are] exams, papers, finals, time pressures, things that are being demanded of them. But the thing also to remember is that there’s stressors at all points of the semester, and people may be dealing with a host of issues on an ongoing basis, and it’s just that at the end of the semester, things really begin piling up. Time management is always an issue for college students because there’s so many things that they’re having to deal with, but other things as well. Environment, in terms of how their living situation is. Unpredictability is an issue in terms of how much can they control what’s going on in their lives. But then also social and relationship issues. So the whole thing is that we’re always dealing with stress throughout our lives and certainly college students are dealing with it throughout the semester, but it seems to obviously peak at certain times when exams and everything else comes up.
Q: Earlier, you mentioned the difference between acute and chronic stress. Does acute build up to chronic stress?
A: Acute is a shorter duration. Our stress response system is really designed for the fight or flight for major threats to our well-being. In terms of what is modern life, we’re not having to deal with those stress. The problem with modern life is learning how to deal with and lower our stress levels.
Q: Is there any known correlation between the stress a student is under and his/her performance at school?
A: We do know that obviously, college students report high levels of stress because they’re dealing with a of things at once. But I think that the takeaway message with stress in general is that it’s not just what’s going on and how you’re feeling stressed but how you’re managing the stress, because there are some ways that people can manage stress so that it doesn’t interrupt their functioning. We know that the symptoms of excess stress are out there and what we want to do is step back and see how we can help people to deal with them better.
Q: What can students do to manage and combat their stress?
There’s a host of things we can do. One of the most important things is to keep a regular routine, which seems easier said than done during exam time, but it’s vitally important to eat well, not change your diet by eating more fatty foods. It’s very important to keep a healthy diet. But also sleep, people tend to forego sleep… but we know that in terms of the way that memory works, sleep is vitally important but also in terms of lowering one’s stress response, getting an adequate amount of sleep is essential.
The next thing is exercise. Just even brief bouts of exercise can lower people’s stress level and sort of get them detached from whatever they’re focusing on. Taking time out to be with friends and family to sort of rebalance one’s self and connect with people. The other things, obviously long-term things, that people consider are yoga and meditation. Two things, sort of the quick and dirty ways of dealing with stress? One, taking a deep breath, just sort of calming one’s self down and breathing slowly and deeply. And then another is an interesting study done at Yale and UCLA was the effect of random acts of kindness on lowering people’s stress level. So they found that people who were stressed and performed a random act of kindness actually lowered the stress level for the person who was feeling stressed and then also, it helped the person who was being helped in that situation.
I think the takeaway message is not just stress but how we can deal with it and and how we can manage it and the point is that it is manageable. Not everything will work for everyone and not every method will work. But the point is, just have a repetuar of stress-reducing actions you can take. And then the last thing is that anyone who feels overwhelmed, the health services is always there to help. And this is an ongoing process in our lives and learning to deal with stress now is always going to help you deal with it in the future as well.
[media-credit id=2143 align=”aligncenter” width=”500″][/media-credit]
Students share ways they cope with stress during finals week
“I’ve been meditating consistently for the past two years. When there are higher stress levels in my life, I meditate morning and night. Right now, I wake up every morning and meditate for a half hour. This past week I’ve been meditating at night, too, because I have to relax myself before I go to sleep, or I won’t sleep.”
– Emily Eicholtz
Freshman, Sociology major
“I usually try to take breaks like short naps or get moving at the gym, or treat myself to a good dinner after endless hours at the library. It helps when you have little things like that to look forward to. It reenergizes me, too.”
– Marisa Casciano
Senior, Journalism major
“To stay relaxed, I go out and play sports. I’ll go to the rec center, shoot some basketballs around. I like to get a sweat going.”
– Michael Bloom
Sophomore, Advertising major
“I just make sure I have some quiet time to myself without studying and just escape any school related stimuli. I personally love reading a book, and if present, just relaxing with the dogs on campus. There’s nothing better than just receiving excitement and calmness from the dogs Quinnipiac offers.”
– John Killah
Sophomore, Health Science Studies major
Health and Wellness Center on Bobcat Way, Mount Carmel Campus
Office phone: 203-582-8680
Email: [email protected]
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Reporting by Nisha Gandhi and Hannah Feakes