Relieving end-of-semester stress

By Linze Griebenow

Midterms, Halloween, Thanksgiving and finals all fall within the last eight weeks of school. When jobs, internships, self-care, personal relationships, family, financial stress, graduation and seasonal gifts are added to the mix, one is living the life of a college student.

The pressure for students to perform in all aspects of social, personal and academic realms can overwhelm students, said Counseling Services counselor Shiraz Tata.

“It can be very overwhelming when so many things all fall so closely together and go on at once. Students might have more of a hard time being able to prioritize those things,” Tata said.

Kourtney Ikeler, senior double major in sociology and psychology and intern at the Ben Gordon Center, 12 Health Services Drive, said she believes the culmination of oncoming winter weather, academics and personal time can cause students’ mental health to suffer.

“I think just trying to juggle everything is what’s hardest for students,” Ikeler said. “I know I have a full class load, an internship and another job on top of that and it’s just a lot. Plus, some people are in organizations and now finals are coming and…it’s a lot of stress.”

Tata said that although students seek on-campus counseling services for varying reasons, holiday and end-of-semester distress is an increasing topic of discussion from midterms to finals.

“Mid-to-end semester we might see more students seeing their academics suffer or realize they may not make certain grades by the time they go home to their families, and subsequently their academics are then more affected by that stress,” Tata said.

The weight of such heavy workloads coupled with various other personal commitments often takes a toll on students’ mental health.

“I definitely think it all affects our mental health and mental well-being,” Ikeler said. “Plus they have their lives to worry about, not to mention all their other work piled on top of it.”

The NIU campus provides free services to students at Health Enhancement, Health Services and The Counseling and Student Development Center , as well as an array of ‘stress-free zones’ during the week leading up to finals in an attempt to put students more at ease. While these resources exist, students have mixed feelings about them.

Ikeler noted that while campus services make themselves available to students, it is still, “probably not enough.”

“I know a lot of offices on campus close at 4:30 p.m. and students usually have class all day and afternoon so they don’t really get a chance to go when those places are open.”

Sociology graduate student Jill Sanderson agrees that NIU providing students aid for their mental health is vital though difficult to come by at times.

“During finals week, maybe NIU’s homepage could give a list of stress-free resources because there really are a lot of great ones offered, but it’s not always easy to find them on campus or on the website,” Sanderson said.

Ikeler also said she believes students simply don’t know the resources are at their disposal.

“They need to change how they market it so that more people know about them and then can use them,” Ikeler said.

In addition, the stigmatization of being associated with less-than-optimal mental health may cause some students to avoid seeking services for stress.

“I think that all of the services are feasible, but they could be promoted better, like something fun to do, not just as an upside to a negative thing like stress, not just for ‘students who have problems’,” Sanderson said.

Although the collection of responsibilities that pile up during the fall and winter may be burdensome, there is hope for students feeling overwhelmed.

“Honestly, what’s the most stressful out of everything is that I have a statistics final that’s going to take hours and hours,” Sanderson said. “And even with that I feel like school is my vacation. Like over Thanksgiving break my partner was out of town and it was just me with the kids. I just really missed the structure of school.”

Tata suggests students to seek additional campus resources such as tutors, professors and practice tests to help alleviate academic anxiety.

“But I would, first of all, encourage students to pause and breathe and look at what things they have to do. Making a list can be helpful sometimes,” Tata said. “And [they should] most importantly be compassionate with themselves [and] think about if they had a friend who felt the way they did, what advice would they give them?”