Amy Wall investigates the problem of stress in a college environment and argues the responsibility of a university to counter it

What is the one thing that thwarts the student body most at exam time? Studying? Demotivation? Re-runs of Friends that you just can’t tear yourself away from?

Many would argue that it is, in fact, our high levels of the mysterious chromosome known as procrastination. Yes, at exam time, procrastination can be deadly. However there is another thing that can stop us dead in our tracks in the run up to exams – something that can’t be cured by simply allowing your brain an hour or two in front of the telly before the “real” studying begins. That thing is stress.

Stress is one of the most underestimated forms of illness. When stress gets in on you, everything becomes a panic. You can’t concentrate. Your mind begins to race. You have a constant headache. You lose sleep, you lose weight, you lose control of your emotions – and these are just a handful of the most common symptoms. It also has the ability to completely dehabilitate you, something extremely dangerous when gearing up for important exams.

42-16022523It can be argued that some stress can be a good thing. Maybe you’re one of those people who works better under a little bit of pressure – you might find that you can focus and just get things done when the heat is on. However, continuous medical research has found that if you are constantly operating under stress, it can wreak havoc with not only your physical wellbeing, but also your mental wellbeing.

Contrary popular belief, us students tend to lead an incredibly stressful life. We have to worry about assignments, essays, exams and sure such worries are part and parcel of being a student. What people don’t realise is that we also have another layer of pressure put on us. We have to worry about money – about college expenses, about rent, about bills. We worry about the outcome of our exams – what kind of marks we’ll get. Hell, most of us nearing the end of our college career are really starting to worry about what our employment prospects will be like at the end of it all. Many of us are living away from home, which adds a level of isolation to us and our worries, making them seem a lot worse than they are.

It is estimated that over half of Ireland’s population has suffered from some kind of stress-related illness throughout the course of their life. Stress has become such a problem in Ireland that St John of God Hospital in Stillorgan now has its own Stress Clinic dealing with people suffering from this horrible illness.

The worst thing about stress is that it is insidious in its attack. It may start off simple, with general symptoms such as moodiness, worry, memory problems and feeling a bit overwhelmed. Everyone knows that during exam time, worrying becomes second nature. It is at this point, when you are really agonising about an exam that the ugly side of stress begins to manifest with less than desirable physical symptoms: aches and pains, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, diarrhoea, isolation, depression… need I go on?

With stress being such a common issue among students, it has to be questioned: just what can a university do to try and ease stress for students? In fact, occasionally it seems like UCD adds stress to students on purpose. How many times have you had mountains of reading to do for a class, and on top of that an essay and maybe a class exam later on in the week? There is only so much you can get through without exhibiting at least some signs of stress.

“It really is ridiculous, especially this year,” said one final year student I asked. “I know college requires a lot of work, but there is just so much that I can do. Sometimes I find myself ditching class in favour of trying to get an essay done for another module, or catch up on some reading. They need to realise that we’re not robots.”

Indeed, it does seem that at times, lecturers can forget that we are in fact only human. So what would help ease our stress levels? When asked, the majority of students stated that they would like to have our revision week be just that – a week for revision. Many complained that more times than not, their revision week was eaten up by essay deadlines being set during that precious study time.

It would be an interesting experiment to compare our stress levels in UCD’s continuous assessment, semesterised set-up with those of students in the more traditional summer exam schemes. Were UCD students less stressed six years ago than we are today? Or were they more stressed over a shorter period?

With exams looming on the horizon, stress is something students should be aware of, and UCD should be taking this into consideration and providing help before it really becomes an issue.