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USF Health Services sees spike in clients as exams near

As students begin to cram for finals, their health could be at risk if they are not getting the proper amount of sleep. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Staying up late under the stress of studying for exams and completing projects is a regular occurrence for college students, but doing so can lead to sickness at the time of the semester when students most need to be alert and able to succeed.

During the last weeks of the semester, both USF’s Student Health Services (SHS) and counseling center see a spike in new clients as students try to cope with stress.

Joshua Daya, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, said that he sometimes only gets a few hours of sleep when studying for finals.

“(I sleep for) maybe around three to four (hours per night) if I want to just cram everything,” he said.  “But if I decide to separate, then it’s probably a lot better.”

Students who sleep less are over four times more likely to get sick, according to a study conducted last year by University of California at San Francisco.

Dr. Jo Puccio and Dr. Lisa Ferdinand are interim co-directors for the USF counseling center, and Puccio is also the medical director for SHS.

“We get an influx of students who are just a little bit more stressed out as the end of the semester approaches and they are preparing for finals,” Ferdinand said.

At SHS, Puccio said the end of October, around the time of midterms, is one of the busiest times of the whole year.

“We were actually averaging over 300 patients a day for the whole of Student Health,” he said.

Ferdinand said the counseling center would get “around 100 new clients, new people seeking appointments per week” during the month of November.

Throughout the semester, many students visit the counseling center for the same symptoms.

“The top three concerns that we see at the counseling center are anxiety, stress and depression, and that’s pretty consistent,” Ferdinand said.

Often, students visit SHS for anxiety symptoms and are then referred to the counseling center or other on-campus resources, such as the wellness center in the Marshall Student Center.

“One of the things that we tend to see specifically, as far as physical symptoms, is reports of difficulty sleeping and digestive system (problems) such as nausea or diarrhea, which are consistent with increased anxiety,” Puccio said.

To alleviate anxiety, Puccio suggests that students “make sure that they work on getting adequate sleep and engaging in physical activity to try to decrease the level of stress.”

Ferdinand highlighted some of the programs available at the counseling center for students who are feeling overwhelmed as the semester comes to an end.

“What we’re doing with students at this time in the semester is a lot of stress management, a lot of anxiety management,” she said.

Per Ferdinand’s suggestion, one of the best things that students can do to relieve stress is to make a plan.

“Create some breaks within your schedule of studying and that kind of stuff to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, getting enough sleep, eating.”