Be it the inevitable college all-nighter or the mile-long lines at the Library Starbucks, students can often identify the symptoms of finals week.
If you’re feeling the stress of the end of the semester, you’re not alone, as across the university, there is an increase in stressed-out
students, according to Student Health Services (SHS) and the USF Counseling Center.
Ann Jaronski, director of the Counseling Center, said her office sees an increase in stressed students requesting appointments once mid-term exams begin, and the numbers only increase as finals week approaches.
“The pattern is typically slower in the early phases of the fall semester, and as we move through the academic calendar, the requests for counseling services increase and peak around October … We consider it our busy
season after that,” she said.
Between headaches and stomachaches, irritability and higher emotions, SHS Director Diane Zanto said stress can manifest itself both physically and psychologically, and is all too common on college campuses.
“Students are now faced with a time crunch of
getting so many things done in such a short period of time and making the grade at this point, we definitely see an increase in all sorts of things that are stress-related,” Zanto said.
While students can be aware of their stressors, they often let them affect their health, anyway. From October on, Zanto said appointments at SHS begin to fill up to capacity for doctor’s appointments, and stress-related health issues are more common.
“There’s so much interconnection between your physical body and the mental stress that you’re under that it comes out in many different ways through your body,” she said.
The chemical culprits for the physical manifestations of stress are adrenaline and a hormone called cortisol. These chemicals can alter body functions and cause issues ranging from cardiovascular problems, such as increased blood pressure, to gastrointestinal ones, such as ulcers or acid reflux, according to the American Psychological Association.
Other symptoms can include a weakened immune system, respiratory problems caused by harder breathing that can trigger asthma attacks, irregular menstrual cycles and more painful periods for women.
In a survey of 947 USF students by USF Wellness for the American College Health Association in spring, 25.2 percent of students reported anxiety as a factor affecting their academics, while 35.6 percent reported stress as a factor.
In the same report, 55 percent of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety in the last 12 months.
Zanto said stress served a biological purpose in evolution, when humans had to rapidly respond to emergencies while hunting or facing other crises.
“You become hyper alert, but that stops all the other processes in your body and shuts everything down so you can focus on staying alive …,” she said. “In modern society, there’s not a real effective use for that response. Because we feel stressed and carry that response over time, it’s really detrimental to your health.”
Though stress often comes and goes for most people, Zanto said stress can still be valuable in terms of
“A moderate amount of stress helps you get done what needs to be done and pay attention,” she said. “You get too little stress, you get bored and disinterested and uninvolved. You get too much stress and you get these stress reactions caused by the outpouring of these chemicals. That’s when you start to get into the physical problems.”
Jaronski said students are energized and feel acclimated in their classes at the start of each semester, but begin to see stress as midterms and finals get closer.
“Other pressures — financial, relationships and other issues — in students lives don’t stop just because papers are due or there’s finals or projects are due,” she said.
As students study harder and push for all-nighters and continue participating in classes, as well as extracurriculars, the stress begins to show more subtly in psychological symptoms.
“Some of the psychological manifestations of stress include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty reading, processing and retaining information, irritability, being emotional, being angry or crying easily,” Jaronski said.
Whether physical or mental, Jaronski said stress is a fact of life.
“The first thing we have to remind ourselves about stress is that stress is here to stay,” she said. “The important thing would be to learn how to manage it.”
The first step to stress management, Jaronski said, is learning how to recognize when you are stressed, because stress manifests itself differently in each person.
“The sooner you can learn what your triggers and symptoms are, the sooner you can employ techniques to learn and diminish that and minimize the damage and negative repercussions,” she said.
Much like the symptoms, Jaronski said different people also have to manage their stress however works best for the individual — whether it be talking about the problem or simple breathing exercises.
“Things like exercise, talking it out with a friend or getting enough sleep and sometimes giving yourself a break. It’s hard to do everything really well all at once, all the time,” she said. “That’s not possible, so setting really high standards that aren’t completely attainable is incredibly stressful, and a lot of what I see in college students.”
Rather than stress, Jaronski encouraged students to relieve stress by setting reasonable and attainable goals and taking care of their personal health while taking everything, either studying or relaxing, in moderation.
“Moderation is probably the word to know and the biggest thing to strive for when we talk about managing stress,” she said.
Students can find resources for stress management around campus including the Counseling Center, Student Health Services, the Campus Rec Center and USF Wellness in the Marshall Student Center.