In a blink of an eye, another semester has passed. But before you can celebrate over winter break, you have to make it through another round of finals. You know the drill — grab a coffee, hunt for a spot in the library and melt into a puddle of stress.
Within the short span of a week, a tornado of exams, papers and projects will touch down and disrupt everything in its path. Concerned? You should be.
Finals are inevitable, and seemingly, stress is too.
“Stress is definitely one of the biggest things we hear about,” said Casey Phelan, president of Active Minds, a student group aimed at destigmatizing mental health issues, and a junior double-majoring in human development and women, gender and sexuality studies.
Even without exams, college students juggle several different responsibilities and pressures, according to Peter Nardone, general manager of the University Union.
“As students, you’re faced with a lot of things,” Nardone said. “You’re involved in a lot, you’re taking exams, there’s the stressors of graduation, there’s the stressors of ending the semester.”
But according to Jennifer Wegmann, a lecturer of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead, students can use it to their advantage.
“Stress actually can help people — it can help them grow, it can help them develop, it can help them be healthier, it can help them be more productive,” Wegmann said. “The mindsets we set up about stress, whether we think it’s enhancing or debilitating, can almost be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Unfortunately, Wegmann said most students ignore their stress, which makes matters even worse.
“One of the most [misinformed] coping mechanisms that students are really good at doing is avoidance,” Wegmann said. “And so the more students avoid dealing with their stressors, the more the stressors build and it just becomes a very vicious cycle.”
In Wegmann’s course, Health and Wellness Studies 233: Stress Management, students learn to attach meaning to stress, which aims to gives them new ways to cope.
“Think of it like this — all of the things that are happening to me right now, that are adding stress to my life, are getting me closer to my goals, my dreams and my passions,” Wegmann said.
And if you can’t find purpose behind your stress, Wegmann said it may be unnecessary.
“If you really give yourself the time and space to reflect on the meaning behind the stress, and if you find no meaning to it, that stressor may need to be unloaded,” she said.
Wegmann also said being grateful, having a strong support system and practicing self-care are vital for coping with stress.
“Most think they don’t have time for it, but most research shows that when you actually focus on taking care of yourself, you become more productive,” she said.
She suggests exploring de-stress events on campus. Each semester, the Office of the Dean of Students runs the Stress-free Bing initiative, a two-week program designed to help students relax during finals. Festivities are free and offer a variety of activities, including doughnuts and hot chocolate at “Dean & Donuts,” a “Qigong Meditation” session and Zumba, spinning and other group fitness classes.
Nardone said providing outlets for students to de-stress is an important part of supporting mental health.
“Sometimes as an individual you can be stressed and people may not know, so being intentional in providing opportunities and programs lets people have the chance to get involved, to catch a break, whatever it means to de-stress for someone,” he said.
Residential Life and Active Minds also host de-stress events throughout the year to help students unwind. Phelan said Active Minds aims to educate students on how to care for themselves.
“It’s very easy to overlook the internal side of people’s health and the emotional side of what people go through and what they’re dealing with,” Phelan said. “We just try to spread as much information as we can, because mental health is so individualized and how people cope with that is so individualized.”
Nardone said organizers are consistently working to grow the number of de-stress events offered each semester.
“We recognize that everyone is an individual, and being able to offer a variety of ways to get engaged at the end of the year — to just let the students know that we’re there for them and looking out for them — I think, is really important,” he said. “It’s something that I hope continues, and I think still has the chance to grow.”