Back-to-school anxiety common but conquerable

By the fifth day of the fall semester at Santa Monica College, Michele Davis, a 20-year-old history major, had already received four syllabi listing upcoming quizzes, papers and midterms. Before long, Davis began to feel the familiar stomach pain and sweaty palms that accompanied her realization of the long hours of study she has looming ahead. Attending college can be a pleasurable experience for many students, but for others, it represents a highly stressful time of extensive studying and pressure.

Many students like Davis are faced with the challenge of finding classes, coordinating schedules, preparing for difficult tests, and facing academic obstacles that might be overwhelming.

Students beginning a new semester are likely to experience stress as they attempt to respond to the many responsibilities they face in their new schedules.

According to Sandra Lyons Rowe, coordinator of Psychological Services at SMC, stress is a normal reaction of the body, but excessive stress can affect both health and academic performance.

Titus Tiong is one of many SMC students who feels stress during enrollment periods, and experiences difficulties adding classes.

“I only have 11 units this semester—now I am going to be deported,” Tiong says jokingly, but in fact, international students must be enrolled in at least 12 units to maintain their student visa, which can heighten enrollment stress.

Rowe considers that there is a line between “normal stress” that students face and “bad stress and anxiety.” She says that the crossing of the line occurs when the anxiety becomes overpowering.

“If the students are not able to function in a normal way, and it becomes a problem for them to focus on the things that they need to do, then it’s time to ask for help,” says Rowe.

For Davis, stress starts when deadlines for different classes coincide in the same week.

“During midterm week, I am not able to sleep because days are not enough for me to study the material,” Davis says. “Sometimes I just freeze and I can’t keep studying.”

Psychological Services habitually receives students like Davis with symptoms such as insomnia, depression, test anxiety, lack of appetite and other signs associated with excessive anxiety.

The Psychological Services team teaches students strategies to reduce their anxiety and stress. According to Rowe, there are three key mechanisms to reduce academic stress: time management, stress management and self-care.

Rowe believes that self-care is indispensable to managing academic stress.

“Students should make sure that they are eating healthy and getting enough sleep,” Rowe says.

Rowe recommends that students who feel that they cannot handle the pressure should ask for help at the beginning of the semester.

“Students usually come around the exams when the stress level is too high and it is hard for someone to apply the strategies,” Rowe says. “We invite them to come early, or come to one of our workshops early in the semester.”

Rowe believes that students should be aware that a new semester is always stressful, and that they should prepare themselves both mentally and physically to face the challenges that lie ahead.