By Jordan Hearne
We all feel it: that ball in the pit of your stomach when you know a big assignment is due, a test is coming up, or a pop quiz might be on the horizon.
For college students, stress is a constant companion, but finals week may be the tipping point for some. The need for success is at its highest due to the multiple and potentially heavyweight exams on the horizon, so students are definitely under pressure.
Emma Wood, a psychologist for Baylor’s Counseling Center, said the issue of stress for Baylor students can stem from multiple areas including the high expectations of others and competition for the best grades.
“Performance situations generally cause a certain level of anxiety. Additionally, many students worry about GPA and losing a scholarship, and peer pressure plays a role,” Wood said. “Friends talk about grades and studying, and students often feel like they aren’t good enough or doing enough compared to their peers. If you aren’t anxious and freaking out then you must not be a good or invested student, which is obviously a myth.”
Wood said pressure from parents who push their children into difficult career fields can increase students’ stress levels.
Rhome senior Emily Bray said Baylor’s reputation for excellence has caused her to have a high level of performance anxiety.
“I am always thinking that I’m a southern girl going to a prestigious southern private university. I’d better excel,” Bray said. Bray said her stress total is compounded by the need to succeed in all areas of her life and not just academics. She said the stress has caused her to lose 20 pounds.
Wood said she noticed a large number of students coming through the counseling center who have pushed themselves too hard.
“Baylor students, in my clinical experience, have the highest and most intense amount of anxiety related to academics and performance that I have ever seen,” Wood said. “This is likely due to the high quality of the academic program at Baylor, and the rigorous nature of the degree programs.”
Not all students feel overloaded by stress, however. Singapore junior Colin Surguine, a public relations major, said while he feels the pressure to be an outstanding student, he does not think attending Baylor increases a student’s stress level by requiring perfection.
“Instead, Baylor pushes for a more balanced life, academically, socially, as well as spiritually,” Surguine said.
Some students are seeking extreme measures to cope with the stress. One, a health and science studies major who wished to remain anonymous, said she turned to Adderall, a drug intended to help increase focus in people suffering from attention deficit disorder, although she does not have a prescription for it. She credits Baylor with giving her an obsession with perfection that she had not felt prior to attending the university.
“It feels like the only way you can get it done is by sitting up and studying all night because they’re expecting A’s and you’re expecting A’s,” she said. “It’s hard to balance and it feels like the only way to do it is to get outside help.”
She said by taking the drug, she was able to study nonstop for hours and also keep up with her other responsibilities, including student organizations she had joined, that had been overshadowed by school.
Wood said the ways students react to intense stress range from small changes in the way they study to abusing drugs like Adderall.
“Obviously the latter is dangerous and does not fix the problem in the long term,” Wood said. “Unless you get prescribed it by a physician that can see you multiple times and follow up on it, it’s dangerous. It’s basically a pharmacy-created methamphetamine.”
Wood said people have become desensitized to hearing students admit to using prescription drugs obtained from their friends to study in the past few decades. The Counseling Center views this type of drug use as a sign of deeper problems like depression or overwork.
“In the short term, students’ central nervous systems can become overtaxed, leading to fatigue and exhaustion and oftentimes irritability, which can lead to relationship conflicts and blow-ups,” Wood said. “In the long term, if these symptoms persist, then students are at risk for developing clinical levels of these symptoms which impact other areas of their life.”
Wood said the signs of an exhausted nervous system begin as disrupted sleep and grow to include changes in mood and interaction in significant relationships.
“The first line of defense is to go to the people that know you,” Wood said. “A parent or a good friend can provide room for you to vent, laugh, or generally de-stress by providing a distraction from the pressure of finals. Doing something fun can be important in intervening when stress is taking over.”
Wood said talking to a professional is the next step if students feel like they “just can’t snap out of it.”