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Rutgers students explain how to conquer excessive stress

Photo Illustration | Students should take care of their mental health, but an excessive amount of stress can have a negative imapct on that. Taking time off to relax can help rejuvenate people, making it easier to tackle exams or projects. – Photo by Edwin Gano

Exam season is here, along with the stress that comes with it — but there are plenty of strategies for students to cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with it. 

The number of adolescents seeking counseling for exam stress has increased by 200 percent, according to The Guardian, which analyzed students in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Anxiety among students is currently at its highest, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. College students today are about as stressed as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s, according to The Daily Targum.

"Since we're in the midst of midterm season, stress is probably at an all-time high for most students this year,” said Zach Sinkiewicz, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “Just remember to make time to do what you love. Don't neglect your studies, but moderate your time allocated to (your passions)." 

Christie Schweighardt, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said activities like watching Netflix, playing video games, going hiking or biking, chatting with friends, going for a jog, hitting the gym or simply staying inside and relaxing can help alleviate stress.

There has been a “shift” in how college students deal with struggles, said William Alexander, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Pennsylvania to the New York Times.

“A small setback used to mean disappointment, or having that feeling of need to try harder next time,” he said. "(But now), for some students, a mistake has incredible meaning.”

As a result, he said students can end up in a spiral of negative thinking, which can affect productivity.

Creating and managing activities through a Google Calendar can help students avoid harmful stress and to better use their time, said Schweighardt, who is the former chair of the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) Health Task Force.

She said in addition to using an online calendar to organize classes, clubs, work and exercise, students should establish relationships with upperclassmen. 

“(Upperclassmen) will always be willing to help offer tips in time management and advise you in planning out your next couple of years,” she said. “There are also resources available through the University if you think you need help with time management.”

Schweighardt said she thinks it is important for students to take breaks and use their friends and family as a mental health support system.

Sometimes fear of talking with someone else can prevent students from taking action, she said, but individuals should not let that fear deter them from discussing their problems.

“Plan out how long it takes you to finish assignments. Being involved is great, but still schedule in time for studying and homework.” Schweighardt said. “Follow the 25-minute rule — work smarter, not harder. Work a little bit each day— do not cram."

Studying for midterms is all about balance, she said. Students should focus on their mental and physical health as first priority.

Sometimes students spread themselves too thin, whether they are involved with extracurricular activities or are taking a heavy course load in academics, Schweighardt said.

“Be honest with yourself," she said. "If you have too much on your plate, reevaluate your schedule. Learn to say ‘no."

Another way to diminish the effects of exam stress is to identify what exactly evokes feelings of anxiety, she said. 

“Try and figure out what exactly is stressing you out. Grades? Friends? Partner? Major/minor? The big F— future plans?” she said. “Then focus on what changes you can make to improve the situation. Do not be afraid to talk to someone.”

Sleep deprivation is especially a problem during midterm exams and also contributes to students stress, she said. 

At least seven hours of sleep a night is recommended. All-nighters will not help students' brains retain as much information.

“Take a break and don't let that anxiety conquer you,” Sinkiewicz said.

Most importantly, Schweighardt said students should find solidarity among their classmates during these trying times.

“It is okay to be stressed. It’s normal.” she said.

Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @bushrafhasan for more.

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