The holidays are right around the corner —but with finals, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year.
Santa Rosa Junior College instructors say this is the time of year when a lot of students drop classes because they feel overwhelmed with increased work and study hours.
According to a 2013 study, 37 percent of SRJC students reported feeling high stress levels and more than 40 percent reported they felt tired, dragged out, or sleepy three to five days a week.
Lack of sleep and a crammed schedule leave little time and energy for stress-relieving activities like exercising, socializing or engaging in personal hobbies.
Understanding the physical and psychological causes of stress and learning how other students handle theirs can help every SRJC student get through this stressful time of year.
Diet can play a key role in managing stress. More specifically, how we consume food, not what we eat, can better alter stress levels.
SRJC foods and nutrition instructor Tammy Sakanashi said diet doesn’t physiologically affect stress but can make one feel more stressed. For example, eating more healthfully won’t reduce stress; and it can actually increase stress for someone who is used to eating junk food then suddenly decides to eat vegetables during finals.
On the other hand, stress can cause a student to unintentionally change eating habits. SRJC biology student David Wickoff said when he feels stressed, he doesn’t pay attention to eating regularly during his busy day. “I binge at night and stock up for the next day.”
Sakanashi said over-eating, under-eating or a combination of both is common for people who are stressed. “When you skip a meal, then you usually make up for it and more at the end of the day,” she said.
Another way students make up for skipped meals and low energy is by drinking more coffee. Sakanashi said increased caffeine intake during a stress period makes it worse, but cutting out caffeine would cause even more stress. Instead of sipping coffee or snacking on sugary processed foods while studying, Sakanashi recommends eating snacks like nuts, sunflower seeds and fresh fruit. She added that hand-to-mouth snacking is a stress-relieving activity.
Healthy snacking is another way to combat skipped meals during the day, where as unhealthy habits intensify stress. “If somebody is not eating very well, they’re eating a lot of sugar, drinking a lot of alcohol, and they’re stressed, it’s going to make it worse,” Sakanashi said. “The key is making sure your body is getting good fuel consistently throughout the day.”
Studies have shown a direct relationship between student physical activity levels and school-related stress. A 2003 study published in the “journal research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport” found students who exercised regularly had less health and school-related complaints.
SRJC freshman tennis player Betsy Roseamonty divides her time between school and tennis practice, but doesn’t feel stressed out by her schoolwork. She said tennis allows her to forget about school and focus completely on something else.
“I play tennis to relieve my stress,” she said.
Since tennis is fun for Rosemonty, the pressure of competing as a student athlete relieves her stress instead of compounding it.
Stress relief through physical activity can range from collegiate-level tennis to simply riding a bike to class. SRJC biology student David Wickoff said riding his bike to class is one way he stays active.
“Exercising a little more keeps stress at bay,” Wickoff said. “It makes it more manageable.”
He said he also lifts weights, which he keeps lying around his room so he can use them whenever.
For freshman football player Giuliano Cattaneo, being a student athlete is time-consuming, but he said the physical activity relieves his stress.
“When I go work out, afterwards I feel more focused for studying,” he said.
For Cattaneo, football practice is a stress-relieving outlet, not something that keeps him from doing schoolwork.
If Cattaneo is stressed out from schoolwork, football is his motivation to study. “It really makes you figure out your time management skills,” he said. “It’s all doable.”
Full-time student Kyle Lishka, 19, takes 13.5 units at Santa Rosa Junior College. He finds it stressful to divide his time between his divorced parents. “I have to travel between the households every week,” he said.
Along with these stressors, Lishka deals with the pressure of finding Christmas presents for his loved ones without a job himself. “Sometimes I’ll have a little savings left over from my birthday,” he said. “If I want to get something that’s really fancy for one person, that would mean I wouldn’t have anymore left over for someone else. Just thinking about that stresses me out.”
Lishka often likes taking walks at Howarth Park to find some peace of mind. Although he can’t give the exact reason why walking calms him, he said he enjoys wandering around wherever his feet take him.
SRJC student Danni Menze, 21, is a digital media major with a focus on animation. Recently Menze began questioning if he should change his major to story writing. “If I do want to switch, that would be about three years down the drain,” he said.
Time isn’t the only thing that worries Menze; the financial consequence of what his choice would mean also stresses him out. Menze’s parents currently help pay for his tuition. “I feel like I would be betraying them if after all this time I suddenly said I want to do something else,” he said.
Menze likes to play role-playing games and write stories to de-stress. Menze has been writing a book for five years but the role-playing game is what helps him most. “It allows me to jump into the skin of a person I’d like to be, so it’s a way of escaping who I am or what I am and allows me to be who I want to be,” he said.
SRJC student Yevtte Sanchez, 20, is a full-time student and part-time barista at Starbucks in Cloverdale. Her main stressor is finding a balance between work and school.
In the three years she has attended SRJC she has always taken at least 12 units. “I usually work in the afternoons and go to school in the mornings,“ Sanchez said. Her commute also adds to her stress. “My drive just one way is 45 minutes,” she said.
While Sanchez finds that the best way to take a break is hanging out with friends, she also enjoys traveling. She finds it fun to visit friends who’ve gone away to different colleges. “I went to Sacramento for my birthday in September, and that was fun,” she said.
Sanchez enjoys the freedom that planning a trip gives her. The best part for her is just getting out of her own element.
The math is simple. Fifteen hours per week at a desk or table, facing a projector screen or a teacher, broken up by the occasional prompted peer activity or video. Then another 15 hours at the library or at a desk, maybe in bed with a textbook, mostly on a computer, glancing every so often at a packet of blurred paragraphs outlining the next assignment. Scattered throughout are 15 more hours spent at a part-time job. This doesn’t include the commute to and from, grooming, caring for dependents and eating. A typical full-time student faces a workweek that easily exceeds 45 hours. The stress begins here.
A 2008 survey conducted by the Associated Press and mtvU reported 80 percent of college students experience stress in their daily lives. The finding marked a 20 percent increase from a survey conducted five years prior.
“Students who are extremely stretched financially may be working multiple jobs, and that’s really tough when you’re going to school and dealing with everything that everybody else does,” said Dr. Burt Epstein, assistant director of Student Psychological Services at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Dr. Epstein said he often works with students who live at home or have families of their own. Homelessness is another issue Epstein said is more unique to community colleges.
Dr. Epstein has worked for four other state universities and said that while SRJC students follow national trends with primary issues of depression, anxiety or stress, relationships and financial issues predominate.
Despite advances in technology and communication, the cliché of a stressed out college student devoid of a social life continues under increasing economic pressures.
According to the National Center for Public Policy and Education 2008 “Measuring Up Report,” college expenses have increased more than 400 percent in the last 25 years while the median family income has increased less than 150 percent.
The NCPPE also found that Pell Grants cover less than one-third of college expenses, compared to three-quarters the cost of attending a public four-year college or university in 1979.
SRJC student Luis Avila, 20, made a recent decision to leave one of two part time jobs. Avila continues to work 30 hours a week as an assistant accountant and still struggles to maintain a work-life balance as he pursues a degree in electrical engineering and an associates in math, economics and physics.
Avila said he regularly runs, exercises at the gym and cooks to relieve stress.
“That’s my only free time. Every time I turn around, that’s the only free time I’ve got,” Avila said. “I’ve got no hobbies or anything else; I don’t get to go out or anything because I have no time.”
Avila said he has not played his guitar in six months because of school.
Rene Romero, 18, said school and work are his biggest stressors. He said his job in construction creates an added pressure to perform. “When you do something wrong they make you do it all over and fix it. That stresses me out also,” he said.
Demos and other research groups confirm that working more than part-time negatively impacts school performance, but many students have no choice. The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2008 data revealed nearly one-third of all undergraduates worked 35 or more hours per week.
Stephanie Starr, 50, credited a college success class she recently attended at SRJC for her improved confidence and study practices.
“I’m an oral learner. I never knew that. That has helped because now I listen to my books on tape even when I’m asleep, and I’m getting As where I would have gotten Cs and Bs,” she said.
Starr said that along with listening to her books she has been adhering to a consistent bedtime, finding time to be social and putting her stress in perspective when she feels overwhelmed.
“It’s just a matter of getting them implemented and being consistent and not allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the gap between the perfect world of what I should be doing and my real world of how it really is,” she said.
Epstein recommends exercise, relaxing audio streams, socializing or engaging in individual hobbies and avoiding harmful substances to aid in stress relief. For those struggling with financial burdens, Epstein said time management is crucial.