(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

Finals week is just around the corner, and no amount of Netflix-fueled procrastination will keep that reality at bay.

Within the next week, tests, deadlines and projects that constitute a large portion of students’ grades loom, leaving many overwhelmed. These approaching due dates often mean that finals week is one of the most stressful times of the semester.

Francisco Samaniega, a senior in strategic communication, said while this semester isn’t as bad as previous ones, he still feels stressed out about upcoming exams and presentations.

“I feel like crying, but I put this fake façade around that I’m happy, but I’m not,” Samaniega said. “My self-esteem is low because of that stress and then I don’t feel confident at all; it’s just bad.”

He’s not alone. Namita Murthy, a sophomore in psychology and sociology, said she has four finals to study for, four papers to write and make-up work to do. She quit her job in order to concentrate on school for these next few weeks.

“I’m so stressed,” Murthy said. “I literally feel like either panicking or giving up, putting on sweats and watching Netflix while stuffing myself with sugar and complex carbohydrates.”

Lauren Weitzman, the director of the University Counseling Center, said stress — the wear and tear our bodies experience as we adjust to changes in the environment — is always a top concern for students. She said stress is a highly individualized problem and can manifest itself differently in everyone.

“Some people experience it more physically, others more emotionally,” Weitzman said. “It’s important to become familiar with your personal vulnerabilities to stress so that you can notice when your stress levels start to rise.”

Physical Effects

While the physical effects of stress can affect every aspect of the body, some of the most common symptoms are insomnia, lower immunity and weight gain.

In a study from the University of Alabama, researchers found that more than half of students are not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, mostly due to stress from class. Lack of sleep can lead to an inability to focus and a level of academic failure on par with students who binge drink. Additionally, the National Sleep Foundation reports loss of sleep leads to a lowered capacity to fight illness.

Getting sick around finals and midterms is a common experience. According to the American Psychological Association, stress, even if it’s only present for a few days, harms all aspects of the immune system, especially if the person is without emotional support. As many students are away from social network systems, such as their families, stressed-related illnesses are common in college. These can range from the minor common cold to stomach ulcers.

Additionally, little sleep and being sick, coupled with anxiety and lack of spare time, can lead to extremes in weight fluctuation, with some people losing an unhealthy amount of weight in a short amount of time, and some gaining.

Samaniega thinks the physical and mental side effects of sleep begin to feed into one another.

“I get really fat, and I don’t do a lot of exercise,” he said. “It’s just like a vicious circle.”

Emotional Effects

The emotional effects of stress include irritability, anger, depression and difficulty concentrating and making decisions.

Murthy said that while she is dealing with both anxiety and insomnia, she thinks the mental side effects are worse, as she “can deal with physical stuff a lot easier.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is not the reaction to a situation, but rather to stress itself. This can disrupt people’s normal coping strategies, disturb relationships and negatively impact people’s moods for extended periods of time, all of which can turn into depression.

The American Institute of Stress notes that depression and anxiety can also impact people’s ability to concentrate and that this lack of concentration creates a feedback loop with the other mental impacts. Lack of ability to concentrate makes it more difficult to make decisions, leading many students to procrastinate instead of confronting their assignments.

All of these side effects, mental and physical, lead to a lower productivity level.

The Cures

Ways to relieve stress are as varied as its effects on individuals, with no two people reacting the same way. Weitzman said taking part in relaxing activities, such as working out, going for walks, taking bubble baths or spending time with friends and loved ones is a good way to help beat stress.

Murthy typically watches Netflix programs to deal with stress, but she also thinks there are ways to stay productive.

“Studying in different places and with friends helps a lot,” she said. “Also what helps is making sure you don’t coop yourself up in one place and take breaks and still do stuff you enjoy — just in more moderation when exam time comes around.”

Samaniega tends to be more social when he is stressed.

“I get energy from people. I hang out with a lot of people, and I go to a lot of social events, so that’s how I deal with stress,” he said. “Or sometimes I splurge on myself, like I’ll go out and treat myself.”

Weitzman said one of the services available for stress management is individual sessions at the Counseling Center. Interested students can schedule their first appointment for free at 801.581.6826 or go to Room 426 in the Student Services building to speak with a receptionist.

Additionally, the center offers a variety of mindfulness clinics. There are free drop-in Monday meditation sessions, free yoga drop-in sessions on Wednesdays from 11 to 12 p.m., mindfulness coaching sessions (that cost $12 per session) and a four-week peace of mind workshop (that costs $5 per session for students). For more information about these, visit counselingcenter.utah.edu/services/mindfulness.php.

The U’s Center for Student Wellness also offers emotional, intellectual and physical wellbeing resources on and off campus at wellness.utah.edu/resources/a-z.php.

Weitzman said while it’s good to have these resources, students should also work on personal stress management.

“Stress is a part of life, so having regular coping strategies to manage stress is very important,” she said. “The basics, such as eating well and getting enough sleep, go a long way.”

Above all, Weitzman said students should be aware of their limits and be in touch with their well-being.

“Don’t wait until your stress overwhelms your ability to cope,” she said. “Be alert to initial signs of stress and take steps to address this. Talk to your friends. Everyone feels stress, and it helps to get support from other people.”




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