Students’ stress levels rise as finals approach


(Webster Groves, MO, April 27, 2011) In the last weeks of the semester, some Webster students may be feeling the strain that comes with final projects and exams.  But exam crunch time isn’t the only thing worrying students.  Junior Emily Korenak, international relations major, said her stress comes from her own expectations.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially about school and what my plans are post-Webster,” Korenak said.  “I’m ambitious, so I want to prepare myself as much as I can, but then as a result I take on a bit more than I need to.”

What most students don’t realize, said Patrick Stack, director of counseling, is that the stress they’re feeling is a good thing.

“Stress is actually healthy. You never want to get rid of stress from your life,” Stack said.  “The problem is never stress, the problem is distress.  But just because a person is distressed doesn’t mean it’s negative … sometimes it’s a positive.”

Stress can be a powerful motivator, which is why it is a healthy part of every student’s life, Stack said. Distress, on the other hand, is when stress is unresolved and leads to anxiety and other unhealthy consequences, Stack said.

According to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey, a national survey administered to freshman as they enter college, student’s self-reported emotional health is at a record low.  The number of students who said they feel overwhelmed has also risen.

Stack said there are many things students can do to combat the negative effects of distress.  Exercise and having a confidant to talk to are ways to cope with the pressure while meeting obligations. Using resources on campus, such as the Academic

Resource Center, forming a study group or being able to talk to professors about issues you are having are the best ways to prevent feeling distressed.

“Usually I take a short break, take a shower if I’m really stressed, write a list of what I need to do so I feel organized,” Korenak said. “Just something so I feel in control.”

Stack said he also sees students using unhealthy coping mechanisms.

“Excessive use of drugs and alcohol, blaming other people, particularly instructors, for your struggles in a particular class,” Stack said.

There are, however, many signs and symptoms of distress a student should be aware of, Stack said.

“Difficulty concentrating, though they had seven to eight hours of sleep, they still feel tired,” Stack said.  “Sometimes their mind is racing.  They might begin to have a short fuse, particularly in relationships with other people … They might isolate themselves.  They might blame others for their own misery.  Their muscles might be tight, have a pounding of the heart, high blood pressure.”

The reason why stress is not a bad thing, Stack said, is because stress is the body’s way to communicate that something is wrong.  Although there are negative effects of distress, Stack said that if a student is completely unprepared for an exam or procrastinated on a major assignment, they should feel distressed.

“This is actually a wonderful physiological response, your body is sending a sign to you,” Stack said.  “If you want to learn how to avoid this in the future, I’m trained to help you do that.”

However, Stack warned that if exam time has come and a student isn’t prepared, he can’t help with that.
“You don’t need a therapist, you need a merciful instructor,” Stack said.

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