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Counseling offers final stress reliever

Staff members at USF’s Counseling Center for Human Development don’t need to look at an academic calendar to know when the end of the semester is upon them. The sudden increased demand for services is a clear indicator that final exam week is close.

Leonard Kirklen, coordinator of clinical services for the Counseling Center, said stress related to performance troubles, heightened academic demands and pressure to perform well in order to make a good grade brings tons of students into the center each semester.

The most common problem students have, he says, is that many students procrastinate during the semester, and they face the consequences when the time comes for final exams and end-of-class projects.

“Some students are trying to catch up on half a semester’s work, and they may be doing that in more than one class,” he explained.

The best way to avoid stress at the end of the semester, he said, is to keep up and not save weeks’ worth of work for the end of classes.

Of course, for several students, it’s too late to follow that advice. However, there are still some things those students can do to manage stress.

“Avoid falling into bad nutritional habits,” Kirklen said.

Don’t overuse caffeine, and try not to pull all-nighters. Too much caffeine and lack of sleep cause blurred thinking and concentration, Kirklen said.

Also, try to maintain a somewhat normal routine, he said.

“Try to maintain a balance in life in terms of social activities, recreational activities and exercise.” Kirklen said. “Use those things as stress breaks.”

Focusing solely on work for a long period of time lessens concentration and results in wasted time, he explained.

Kirklen said problems with perfectionism also drive students to seek counseling.

“They want to perform not to the best of their ability — they want perfect scores on their exams. They want to turn in the perfect project or the perfect paper,” he said.

Students can help keep stress in check by focusing on doing the best that they can do rather than insisting on perfection.

Kirklen said he has seen some extreme cases of stress near the end of the semester. Some students who go to the Counseling Center have been stressed out for a long time by the time they seek help.

“High levels of stress for an extended period of time can cause people to burn out and go into depression,” Kirklen explained.

Sleeping and eating habits suffer, and students lack the motivation to stay prepared or catch up.

“In a way, they don’t even care,” he said. “They just want it to be over with.”Students should seek help for stress as soon as it becomes unmanageable so that problems don’t multiply, Kirklen said

The center provides free counseling to enrolled students Monday through Friday year-round, except for university holidays. Students have to go to the center and fill out a moderate amount of paperwork before they may see a counselor. Once the paperwork is finished, they can schedule appointments at a later date, or, during certain hours, make same-day walk-in appointments. Walk-in hours vary, but the center generally has two walk-in hours every morning and two additional hours most afternoons. Students can call the center at 974-2831 to find out what the exact hours are on a given day.

The Counseling Center also offers a variety of programs designed to help students manage all different aspects of life. One of those is the Reading and Learning Program, which assists students with reading comprehension, test preparation and test-taking, study and organizational skills. The program offers workshops two times each semester, usually around midterm and final exam times, as well as individual instruction and courses for academic credit.