By Tristin Chipman, LMSW
All of a sudden the trees are blooming, pollen coats our cars, and almost everyone is sneezing. In addition to allergies, the month of April can bring feelings of distress and anxiety related to completing final projects and papers, taking final exams, and often waiting (in a suspended feeling of powerlessness) to receive a final grade of relative importance. If you can relate to these things, this post is for you.
In addition to the basic tasks of getting an education, many students are subject to one or more experiences of systemic stress such as professor power dynamics and bias, curved grading, financial or family stress, fear related to volatile job markets, temporary visa status, housing or food instability, personal safety, and all of the –isms and –phobias that exist in the world. These things, in combination with individual pressure most students feel during the final stretch of a semester, can invite a sense of overwhelm and isolation. This feeling is common among many students during these times; if you are feeling this way, you aren’t alone. Sometimes, acknowledging that your difficult times are shared with many others can bring about a sense of connection.
It might also be helpful to remember you have skills, knowledge and ability that got you to where you are: inside of you is a survivor! Being aware of our mind-body connection can be enlightening. When experiencing significant threat (real or perceived), we have an innate biological response that keeps us tense and on high alert. Using cues that signal safety to the nervous system can help reduce feelings of anxiety and allow you to think clearly: deep and slow belly breathing, relaxing shoulders and neck tension, sitting with an open posture, chewing a fresh piece of gum, smiling or laughing, feeling grounded and steady where you sit or stand. If you practice these things, they may be helpful when under pressure to write or when starting an exam.
Wherever you are in your busy life, take some time today to slow down for a few minutes and think about what the next few weeks look like for you: reflect on your current standing in each class and see how that fits with your hopes for completion; check your syllabi for important dates and assignments; write your exam times, assignments, and end-of-year-event schedule in a planner; note the days that are particularly heavy. Consider what you can do to prepare ahead for those busy days. Breathe. You can do this.
Sometimes it can really be helpful to think about what’s in your control and what isn’t. Giving yourself permission to focus on taking care of yourself and your needs during times like this can be useful. Letting go of the things outside your immediate control and focusing on you and the things within your power can make a big difference in how you feel. Taking this time for yourself can leave you renewed and able to address other things when final grades are in.
Be realistic and set a strategy. Often the things in your control are things you already know to do. Some possibilities:
You know what to do that works for you, and my hope is that with some self-compassion and care, you will get through this semester with ease, embracing your successes and leaving any unrealized hopes behind you.
*In all discussions about school related stress, it’s important to note that suicidal thoughts or actions in response to stress or anxiety are a sign of significant distress and require immediate help. If you are thinking of killing yourself, or are worried about someone else, there are campus security resources available to students. You can also call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or text HOME to 741741. If you are in Georgia, there are clinicians available 24-7 via the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (1-800-715-4225); you can call this line for assistance or to request a safety check. Similarly, you can call 911 in the event of all emergencies.