Midterm Madness: How Midterms are Impacting Students’ Mental Health

By Julia Defoe, Oct. 31, 2023

As the days approach Halloween, the end of one of the scariest seasons for students going into their Fall semester is awaiting — midterms. Weeks of preparation filled with long days, endless nights and an abundance of caffeine for many students across campus struggling to make it through unscathed.

A great deal of physical, mental and emotional work goes into preparing for midterms and finals this time of year. The stress of ensuring students are prepared for all of their classes mixed with the holidays can be extremely overwhelming.

When handled properly, stress does not have to be a big issue; however, with enough of it not handled in a direct and effective way, it can get to be too much. Unfortunately, symptoms can present themselves in several different ways, both internally and externally. Examples of these symptoms can be an increased feeling of anxiety and uneasiness, or noticing onset shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and other changes. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can have serious effects on the body, potentially increasing risk for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.

Even when studying seems more important, sleep should still be a priority. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found 60% of college students experience poor sleep quality and don’t sleep the preferred hours per night. The general rule is college-aged students should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. A good night’s sleep is key to both retaining information and being as productive as possible.

In preparation for such a drastic change, students have had to alter their personal and social lives to accommodate for the upcoming time commitment. Gizelle Fletcher-Rivas, a Kinesiology student at Cal Poly Pomona made mindful decisions this year when it came to making the time to study for her upcoming exams.

“I had to focus more on adapting to the new workload that is required of us,” Fletcher-Rivas said. “It did change my social aspect a bit more, like, I have had to stop hanging out with people until mid-November.”

She has had to make major changes to her life temporarily for midterm season but will unfortunately need to pick it back up for finals arriving soon after. She also shares how she has not been able to partake in her hobbies and interests due to giving up so much of her time to studying. Distractions like social media have all been removed from her phone, and her “me time” is now devoted to skincare and spending time with family.

Tierra Ellis, an assistant professor of psychology, licensed psychologist and founder of a nonprofit organization that works to destigmatize mental health among Latinx and Black communities named Psyches of Color, Inc. offered insight on how stress can impact the body if left untreated. According to Ellis, stress is physiological, both in our minds and in our body, and this is expressed in the form of sweating, increased heart rate, fidgeting and other symptoms.

“All of these symptoms are having a party in our body, and a lot of the time our mind will respond to that with panic,” Ellis said.

This is the point in which the mind goes into fight or flight mode, only intensifying the symptoms and thus causing the panic to get worse. She urges students to focus on taking small steps in slow increments to calm down when in panic.

“Think of it like parachuting,” Ellis said. “You’re allowing yourself to relax and to come down.”

By thinking of stress and anxiety in the form of a parachute, Ellis explained the allowance of patience, instead of demanding that things change instantly. Sometimes, it is important to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and act next.

When experiencing these stressors and anxieties, it is important to seek out help. This can apply to multiple forms whether it be counseling, workshops or even solving the problem at the root.

The Learning Resource Center is just one of many resources on campus for students, offering individual and group tutoring opportunities as well as workshops for students to seek help on any specific subject. Katherine Guerra is a student at Cal Poly Pomona who works for the LRC as a learning strategist and tutor. As a learning strategist, she works with students to discover new study methods and advise on how to improve the overall learning experience.

“I do my best to guide them in the best way possible,” Guerra said. “If they wish to share more about their personal life then I am also there to listen, not to be judgmental.”

She also encouraged students to consider seeking out other resources provided by the school such as the LRC, Student Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services.

In addition, both Ellis and Guerra urged students to utilize these tips when encountering these uncomfortable feelings moving forward. The first is sitting and allowing the mind to feel stressed and anxious because when fighting that feeling, it tends to only get worse.

Feature image courtesy of Julia Defoe 

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