Experts distinguish stress of finals from depression

Feelings of stress and anxiety can be confused with having depression, which is why it's important to learn the symptoms and differentiate the two. Photo courtesy of Baylor Photography

By Lexi Masarweh | Staff Writer

Dr. Randal Boldt, senior associate director and training director of the Counseling Center, said many students are struggling with depression as the end of the semester approaches.

Dr. Thomas Fergus, associate professor of psychology, said it is normal for students to be stressed during finals. He said anxiety is common when there is a considerable number of activities that have high stakes going on — especially since a lot of students’ finals hold heavy weight on their grades.

According to Fergus, a major depressive episode occurs after persisting for at least two weeks. Fergus defined experiencing a major depressive episode as when someone does not think they can meet or deal with the stressors in their life.

“Depression tends to be marked by a low sense of self-efficacy, so a low belief in ability to cope with stressors,” Fergus said.

According to Fergus, the difference between the anxiety of finals and depression is that anxiety has more apprehension. With anxiety, people have more self-reflecting questions like “How can I rise to the occasion?” Conversely, with depression, people hold beliefs of “No matter what I do, I will not be able to complete this task.”

“Major depressive episodes are indicating that the experience of negative emotion is more severe, more intense, more long-lasting than what we would see as the more normative stress response that college students would experience through that period of time,” Fergus said.

Fergus said if someone is in a major depressive episode, he recommends they seek support from the Counseling Center.

Boldt said getting outside and being exposed to sunlight, establishing a regular sleeping cycle and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake is helpful for those with depression. He also said sunlight helps those who have seasonal affective disorder, which occurs during the fall and winter and is more common in northern regions than in Texas.

Students can call the Counseling Center and set up an initial appointment. They can also utilize Academic Live Care, which is telehealth counseling that is available 24/7, even after the semester is over.