Stress rears its head during finals week

Julie Rule

If there is something that finals week causes in nearly all students, it’s stress.

“At some point, I would expect it would affect every student,” said Jeanne Burkhart, staff psychologist at Student Counseling Service.

She defined stress as “a reaction to both negative and positive events that has some physical and emotional responses associated with it.”

Burkhart said the causes of stress can be anything abnormal for a person.

“Anything can cause stress,” she said. “It’s a matter of how people react to the situation.”

From the cases seen at Student Counseling, Burkhart said test anxiety, family stress and having to work while going to school tend to be the main causes.

Denise Allumbaugh, graduate student in psychology who works in the Wellness Center in the Student Health Center, said other common causes of stress in students are relationships and money.

Amanda Crabtree, junior in agricultural biochemistry, agreed with this, saying the causes of her stress are classes, too many tests in one week, “stupid administrators” and “wasting time on stupid things.”

Josh Dykstra, senior in computer science, said causes of his stress include exams, projects and other class-related things.

Relationships, both good and bad, cause Jackie Harry’s stress. Harry, sophomore in animal science, said classes and a busy schedule also stress her out.

Shae Coffman, freshman in pre-advertising, said the source of her stress is procrastination. “I procrastinate way too much,” she said.

Burkhart said short-term effects of stress include some anxiety, increased heart rate, sweating and decreased concentration, while long-term effects include increased or decreased appetite, higher blood pressure and an inability to focus on things.

Allumbaugh said other short-term effects are trouble remembering things, feeling physically ill, feeling more tired and being susceptible to colds.

It also can affect peoples’ moods, making them more irritable and causing problems in relationships.

This is something with which Brenda Moats, freshman in zoology, can identify.

“I get crabby,” she said.

Allumbaugh said the symptoms of stress can vary from person to person. However, the most common physical symptoms are headaches, upset stomach, tense muscles and sweaty palms. Psychological symptoms include irritability and depression, and behavioral symptoms can include increased alcohol and tobacco use.

Dykstra said stress was making him sick.

“I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m ill,” he said. Stress often causes him to be in a bad mood, as well.

Crabtree said she’s lost weight because of stress. “I stop eating because I don’t have time,” she said.

Stress also causes Crabtree to get very depressed. “I break into tears at random moments,” she said.

Harry said she gets edgy and moody, loses sleep and becomes an introvert.

Coffman said stress causes her to sleep poorly.

“I always think about what I’m supposed to be doing, but then when I wake up, I don’t get it done,” she said. “It all comes down to procrastination.”

Allumbaugh said although she believes stress affects everyone at some point, severe stress affects a smaller percentage.

“It can affect people in small ways, but if they don’t take care of it, it can cause more severe problems,” she said.

On a long-term basis, Allumbaugh said stress can cause anxiety disorders and severe depression as well as physical disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Stress is over the limit for people “when they feel like they’re not handling things well. It’s different for everybody,” she said. “Everybody has a different level of stress that they can handle.”

Allumbaugh said stress can be motivational, up to the point where it becomes overwhelming.

“Some level of stress is good,” she said.

If it does become overwhelming, Burkhart said to break tasks down into small pieces.

“Just focus on one thing at a time,” she said. She also recommended relaxation exercises.

Students have different ways of handling their stress.

Harry said she does not handle her stress well — she burns out and gets sick.

“I bottle it up until I snap,” she said. Although Harry has not “snapped” yet, she said she is getting close.

Coffman also said she doesn’t handle stress well.

“I have no efficient means of handling stress,” she said, although listening to music helps. “I listen to REM and new wave ’80s music.”

Dykstra has another way to handle his stress.

“I usually just go to my room, shut the door and avoid everything,” he said. “I’m in a bad mood anyway, and I have no reason to make it rub off on other people.”

Burkhart said when people come to Student Counseling, the counselors help them find different ways of coping, as well as doing some work on relaxation and learning to slow down.

For treatment of less severe stress, Allumbaugh said she recommends deep breathing and visualization exercises and learning better time management.

For very severe stress, she said treatment for depression or anxiety might be necessary, and sometimes medical treatment is needed if the stress has caused a medical problem.

To prevent stress, Allumbaugh suggested eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep.

She also recommended finding ways to express emotions, such as journaling, drawing, listening to music that reflects the mood and talking, so emotions don’t build up over time.

“Take care of yourself,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to take a little bit of time for themselves every day.”