Support networks help students cope with added stress during finals week

A sign reading "University Health Services" points into the Tang Center, UC Berkeley's health center
Randy Adam Romero/Staff

For UC Berkeley junior Aya Abounasr, a regular weekday ends as the clock strikes 3 a.m., when after a long day of classes and work she finally closes her textbook and heads to bed.

Like many students, Abounasr — an assistant student researcher in the College of Natural Resources — feels stress from the mounting pressure of balancing an entire semester’s coursework, club activities and an off-campus job.

“At the beginning of the semester, I was more set on limiting my social life as much as possible,” Abounasr said. “But I realized that if I do that too much, I stop being able to cope and focus.”

According to Kim LaPean, a university health services spokesperson, while heightened academic pressure may make it difficult to focus on reducing stress, the most effective way to reduce the temporary stress commonly seen during finals is for students to reach out to their families and peer support groups.

“A lot of students don’t think of working out their support network,” she said. “Whatever you can do to make sure you’re balancing out your study time with breaks (will help in managing stress).”
LaPean also said another simple way to to manage stress is merely by changing the environment in which students spend most time studying.

“During finals week, I tend to stay in the library until 4 in the morning, and I definitely like to have someone with me when I study, which takes the stress off of studying alone,” Abounasr said.

Across the country, colleges and universities are seeing more and more students stressing over their academics, which pushes their mental and physical health to the back seat.

In order to stay academically competitive at campuses such as UC Berkeley, many students take on extra units and join multiple clubs — something that can quickly become overwhelming, especially during finals week.

“Berkeley is a very competitive environment, and everyone here is very intelligent, ambitious and focused on getting that grade and succeeding during finals,” said sophomore Shannon Thomas, who is double majoring in peace and conflict studies and Middle Eastern studies.

Thomas’s 19-unit course load and involvement in the campus division of Model United Nations, the Olive Tree Initiative and Cal Berkeley Democrats leaves little time for much else.

While academic stress can often be a motivator and serve to the student’s benefit, prolonged and overwhelming stress has the propensity to develop into anxiety and depression that need to be kept in check, LaPean said.

She added that it is becoming increasingly more common to see additional students in counseling as the semester comes to a close.

For students dealing with prolonged stress — defined as an extended period of persistent tension or anxiety — the Tang Center offers counseling and various other stress management resources to keep the anxiety under control.

“One of the things we are doing is bringing pet therapy dogs and trying to promote our stress management self-help resources that we have,” LaPean said.

For Abounasr, stress management during finals week consists of frequent study breaks, which are the only times she is available to connect with friends.

“I need my friends more than I need sleep,” she said. “Just to talk to and laugh with other people takes the stress off because, truth be told, everyone at Berkeley is going through a similar experience.”