Health issues such as difficulty sleeping, asthma, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome and lower immune system problems may be on the rise due to stress as USF students enter finals week.
The number of patients visiting places such as Student Health Services or the USF Counseling Center from stress-related illnesses becomes higher during the midterm and finals exam period, said Egilda Terenzi, director of Student Health Services.
Leonard Kirklen, psychologist and clinical coordinator of the USF Counseling Center, said the majority of students who visit his office suffering from stress-related sickness have symptoms such as frequent headaches, lack of energy, difficulty with concentration and stomach problems.
Kirklen gave an example of a student he had recently assisted and said the patient’s situation was a common problem among students this time of year.
“The student has four final exams next week. Three of the exams are in one day and the next one the following day,” Kirklen said. “That can cause a lot of stress. And that’s something many students have to deal with.”
Although suffering from stress-related sickness might be a negative reaction for some students, Kirklen assures that experiencing some type of stress is a normal factor in students’ lives, a factor that may indeed push some students to perform better.
“Students need to understand that some degree of stress is a normal reaction,” he added. “Also, for some students some degree of stress would actually motivate them to perform to their best of their ability.”
Low or moderate levels of stress might in fact help a student’s performance. However, those students who have poor time management skills and those who have careless studying habits might experience high levels of stress and subsequently suffer from various health problems, Kirklen said.
Describing extreme cases, Terenzi talked about students walking into the health center with caffeine poisoning after exams week.
“They come to us when they have taken too many caffeine stimulants,” Terenzi said. “They walk in with heart raising problems and with difficulty breathing.”
Terenzi warns people who have heart problems from taking too many caffeine stimulants because they run a higher risk of side effects. After taking to many caffeine pills to stay awake, people who do not have heart problems are encouraged to drink a lot of non-caffeinated fluids, try to rest and relax and let the medication get out of their systems, Terenzi added.
The Counseling Center, which receives an increased amount of students during mid-semester and finals week, also offers workshops on stress management, test anxiety, time management as well as programs that teach students how to improve their test-taking proficiency and studying skills. Unfortunately, these courses are only offered through mid semester to help students before midterms and final exams arrive.
Kirklen said many students who suffer from stress often wait until the end of the semester to seek help when their stress levels become higher. He said that some students suffering from depression also wait until the end of the semester when stress from finals aggravates their conditions.
One suggestion that the Counseling Center offers students is to try to avoid procrastination, which according to Kirklen is a major cause of stress.
“If a student waits until the last minute, then the student has at least four classes to prepare for. That can be very difficult,” Kirklen said.
Other suggestions are to maintain good eating habits, and get get enough rest in terms of sleeping for a good amount of hours.
In addition, Terenzi recommends trying to incorporate some type of exercise regime, which could promote staying stress-free.
Kirklen suggests students try to stay away from drugs and alcohol during stressful times since these factors do not help people stay productive. And soda and coffee should also be consumed in moderation.
“Drinking too much caffeine for example, would disrupt the students sleep patterns as well as their eating habits,” Kirklen said. “If the person is already experiencing stress, caffeine might make their stress levels higher because of the stimulants in it.”
The Counseling Center has 15 to 20 counselors that offer students help. Students are encouraged to make appointments to see counselors, but walk-ins are welcomed.