There are only a couple of minutes until the end of the testing period. Despite only having about three hours of sleep, Edward Cabrera’s stomach is jittery and his hands are shaky. There’s a lump in his throat because of the one question he does not quite understand. It could be the question preventing him from getting a pass or fail grade.
Quickly, Cabrera scribbles down an answer, hoping it gets him a sufficient amount of points to add to his already less-than-average grade. Handing in his exam does not relieve him because tomorrow, he has another exam that could potentially harm his grade point average.
This is one of many scenarios college students experience at least once in their educational career. Worrying about projects, papers, exams and quizzes, are not unfamiliar to the average student. For some, this worry becomes increasingly stressful during their everyday lives to the point where completing remedial tasks seems impossible.
Like a large majority of young adults in this situation, Cabrera is a full-time 3rd year student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, struggling to keep his grades up and work as a part-time Sunday school teacher simultaneously. Spending time with friends does not seem like an option to him.
“My social life has decreased significantly because I’m always studying and doing homework,” Cabrera said. “I don’t have time to do anything else.”
At this point in a college student’s life, wishing for more hours in a day is not uncommon. Their whole life is based on deadlines. It is inevitable to most students who are always scrambling to finish papers on time, cramming for the next exam, or trying to complete online homework that will not let them resubmit work after a certain time of the day. For some, this just may be the result of procrastination. However, there are others who have such a full schedule that deadlines are always an area of concern.
Magie Fotovatian is currently working a part-time job, an internship, and is taking 15 hours of classes this semester at UIC. She has also recently started a mixed martial arts class that she must attend at least twice a week.
Her anxiety surrounding college work increased because of these additional responsibilities. Because her schedule is so full, it is a struggle to find enough time in the day that she often pulls all-nighters, which are work or study sessions that many students have predictably been through.
“I never have time for myself. I always have deadlines,” Fotovatian said. “I’m always doing homework and worrying about getting a good grade in a class that I need to get a good grade in.”
A survey conducted this year by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) provided surprising results. Almost 41 percent of students who visited their counseling centers struggled with anxiety. It recently overtook depression, which 37 percent of students struggle with, as the number one issue that students brought up.
It is no question that college is one of the most path changing events in a person’s educational career. It can shape their future and ultimately decide what they are going to do for the rest of their life. For those who realize this, college can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. Students may not realize the various strategies they can utilize to help relieve themselves from these worries.
Staying Motivated and Achieving Success in Graduate School: A Few Common and New Suggestions by Doug Baumann and Jeff Nisen offers their readers some tips to get through school. Although this is aimed at graduate students, the following advice may be applicable to undergraduates as well.
- By being organized, schoolwork may not seem so overwhelming or chaotic. Breaking down each goal will help make the work seem more approachable.
- Trust within oneself boosts confidence. Recognizing one’s abilities can be a push through the negativities.
- Remembering that everyone goes through it shows that no one person is alone in this endeavor. The negative emotions and experiences produced by school are not unique.
“Never put off tomorrow what you can do today” is a famous quote by Thomas Jefferson, who literally meant, “Do not procrastinate.” However, it is inevitable that every student has procrastinated at least once. Perhaps explaining the science behind procrastination will help students better understand why they frequently put things off until the last minute and lessen the amount of procrastination they exert.
In her article, The Science Behind Procrastination, Amy Spencer explains that there are two parts of the brain that contribute to procrastination. The first is the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision-making. This is what makes a person complete tasks. However, the prefrontal cortex needs to be kick started, otherwise the limbic system takes over. The limbic system is responsible for emotions, such as pleasure. The limbic system gives immediate satisfaction in activities that people may find rewarding or entertaining. It also causes them to flee from happenings that do not seem pleasurable, such as homework or studying. Essentially, these two parts of the brain battle over the long-term benefits of completing a task and the immediate satisfaction that comes from avoiding these tedious tasks and going off do something pleasurable instead, such as playing video games or surfing the Internet.
“Is that it, then? Are we doomed to all-nighters powered by nothing but blind panic and Red Bull?” Milana Knezevic asks in her article Procrastination: A Student’s Worst Enemy? To answer Knezevic’s question and however difficult it seems to overcome procrastination, there are ways to kick that prefrontal cortex into gear.
Tips Towards Accomplishment
The causes of anxiety are many and can differ from one student to the next. There is the fear of failing, the lack of preparedness, the inability to concentrate as well as many other reasons. Whatever cause there may be, there are ways to help alleviate the anxiety and get that prefrontal cortex going. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website provides the following tips for overcoming anxiety in college.
- Being prepared makes a huge difference. Studying well before a test or starting an essay as soon as the prompt is assigned can lessen future stress.
- Maintaining a positive attitude may result in a positive outcome. Self worth is not dependent on a grade. There are no benefits to negative thinking.
- Staying healthy, mentally and physically, will make it easier to handle stress and anxiety. Enough sleep, eating healthy, and personal time are just as important as studying.
Everyone needs help at one point or another. Sometimes just talking it out relieves the stress and anxiety that has been weighing down on students’ shoulders.
These issues may be personal and students may not be comfortable sharing them with close people in their lives. What some students might not know is that most colleges and universities provide counseling centers or mental health resources that they can utilize without any additional cost. For example, UIC’s Counseling Center provides a numerous amount of services to help with these issues, such as therapy, career counseling, workshops, and presentations. These services offer help to anyone and everyone who need it.
Students experiencing anxiety are not alone. There are people they can talk to and there are ways to help overcome it. Remember that it will pass. Stay positive. Hard work will be rewarded. Breathe.