Cracking down at the end of the semester is harder with burnout

By Olivia Montes

Elm Staff Writer

As the fall semester comes to an end, it feels so close but so far away.

As finals week approaches, students consistently feel the weighing pressures of managing time between writing term papers, arranging complex projects, and studying for exam after exam, all for the sake of achieving some form of success by the end of the first half of the year.

“But how much strain students experience may depend less on their workloads and more on how they think about the very nature of stress,” The New York Times’ Lisa Damour said in 2018.

And the stress just does not end with classes. On top of numerous dedications to different course assignments, students are also faced with the pressures of taking care of themselves and following through with other commitments to part-time jobs, internships, and extracurricular activities.

Students are not doing this just for the sake of their grades, but for the sake of survival.

“We’re all operating in a deeply broken system where many Americans are working nonstop as a matter of survival; systemic and policy changes must address that, not individuals,” VOX Media’s Rachel Wilkerson Miller said in September 2019.

“[But] it’s hard, especially if you’ve worked in toxic environments or if you’ve had to be obsessive about work (or school) to get to this point,” she said.

Despite the seemingly innocent and temporary phase of the stress that accompanies finals, it can last much longer than anyone thinks — and have more disastrous consequences.

“Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise,” The New York Times’ Olga Meckling said in 2019.

One of those solutions is to know your limits, know how much responsibility you can handle, and do not go out of your way to overextend yourself knowing full well that you cannot complete everything in a matter of days.

“Setting boundaries isn’t just about saying no; it’s also about saying yes,” Miller said. “When your brain is on fire after a long day of work, remember to say yes to the activities that contribute to your overall well-being.”

Another helpful solution would be to shut off and shut down properly at the end of the day — but in a healthy, respectful manner to yourself, such as cleaning up or eating a healthy meal — simple activities that don’t involve mass amounts of thought.

“Instead of flopping down and scrolling on your phone endlessly after a long day, maybe eat something vaguely nourishing, move your body, put clean sheets on your bed, make a cup of tea, take a bath, do a puzzle — anything that helps ground you and makes you feel a little bit more human,” Miller said.

As finals week comes closer, Washington College does provide helpful resources to students to ease the tension that approaches. The Writing Skills and Qualitative Skills Centers grant students the resources to structure, organize, and find effective studying methods with peer tutors, and the Health and Counseling Services helps to relieve them of the high levels of stress they’re weighing upon themselves this time of the year.

And while WC does manage to give students opportunities to soften the level of stress students place upon themselves near the end of the semester, it is truly up to the individual student to take the initiative to recognize their stress and search for solutions to calm themselves down, as well as coming to terms with the fact that stress is a part of everyday life.

But they have the power to overcome it and come out stronger than the semester before.

“The conventional wisdom is that stress does harm and so, accordingly, we should aim to reduce, prevent or avoid it,” Damour said. “[But] to reframe how we think about [this] phenomenon…we should appreciate that healthy stress is inevitable when we operate at the edge of our abilities—stretching beyond familiar limits doesn’t always feel good, but growing and learning — can’t happen any other way,” she said.

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