Generation Stressed

Pushed to achieve, students resort to desperate measures
One December evening at Bobst Library, a group of students cram for upcoming exams. The students alternate between flipping through textbook pages and audibly discussing popping Adderall in the restroom. Another pries his eyes open with his fingers to stay awake. During any given finals week, many young people refuse sleep in an effort to get their work done; scenes of stressed students are commonplace on college campuses.According to the Higher Education Research Institute, the average college student’s self-rating of emotional health has reached an all-time low. As of last year, only 52 percent of students rated themselves as being in strong emotional health.In addition, roughly 76 percent of American college students consider themselves “driven to achieve,” more than ever before, the study reported.

“Universities and colleges are a microcosm of society,” Tamara Oyola-Santiago, a wellness educator at Student Health Services, said. “During midterms and finals, stress and time management become more salient due to the high volume of projects and exams which are due.”

In a university-wide survey conducted in April, New School students reported that stress had the largest impact on their academic work.
Olivia Creser, a photography major at Parsons, quit her part-time job in a “fit of desperation” over her workload and the upcoming holiday break.“I try not to leave anything to the last minute, but even that doesn’t guarantee anything,” she said. “Winter break is soon, and I haven’t even had time to pack yet. I don’t think I’ve even bought a backpack.”Kevin Watson, a graduate student at The New School for Public Engagement, believes that high unemployment and rising tuition have caused stress levels have caused student anxiety levels to skyrocket.

“It seems like now, there is a lot more stress about jobs looming over the minds of students,” said Watson, who attended Rutgers University as an undergrad, told the Free Press. “Economically, we’re always thinking ahead these days, even if it makes us crazy in the process.”

Not all anxiety is working against students, however.

“Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger,” Amal Chakraburtty, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma, wrote in a 2009 report. “Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.”

Chakraburtty added that 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, including headaches, high blood pressure, asthma and depression. As such, students and professionals alike must learn how to effectively manage their challenges.

According to a The New School university survey conducted earlier this year in conjunction with the National College Health Association, roughly four percent of students reported being clinically treated with ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. However, another 11 percent admitted to using these drugs without a prescription, a 2 percent rise since 2009.

One student, a freshman at Lang who asked to remain anonymous, scheduled an appointment with his doctor, hoping to acquire Adderall. Within 15 minutes of briefly describing his concentration difficulties, his prescription was signed. Taking the medication, he says, has changed the way he looks at college life.

“There is a certain standard with these papers, exams and internships,” he said. “After a while, it’s difficult to imagine doing all this work without these pills. It’s scary, but just look at what we’re being expected to do.”

However, for students like Hilary Dalldorf, a sophomore at Lang diagnosed with ADHD and being treated for it with medication, prescription drug abuse is nothing to take lightly.

“I actually need it,” Dalldorf said. “It’s really offensive when people text me and ask if they can use my medication. The worst part is that any doctor will prescribe it.”

There are other ways to be productive in academia. Regina Morgan, a sophomore majoring in communication design at Parsons and psychology at Lang, recently discovered that studying in public places such as libraries helps her concentrate.

“I usually try to study ahead of time in a quiet space,” said Morgan. “Going to the library always helps and being around others just as focused as I am motivates me to do my work.”

In an effort to alleviate student stress during finals, Student Health Services provides weekly auricular acupressure, acupuncture and meditation.

In addition, from December 5 to December 9, The New School’s office of student development and activities organized Seek Relief Week, providing students with complimentary trail mix, midnight breakfast, and three-minute massages.

“With academic advisers, mental health counselors, and resident advisers, we provide workshops and one-on-one sessions that help students learn effective time management techniques,” said Oyola-Santiago. “All of these help with stress reduction and management.”

Even with the ongoing challenges of finals, Watson feels that the secret to sanity lies within resourcefulness.

“When I was an undergrad at Rutgers and students were under stress, all they gave out were cookies and cider,” he added. “Obviously, students have to put in some effort. But when you know there are people who care about the stresses students are on, it’s a really great start.”

Additional reporting by Ada Akad, Emily Katz & Courtney Stack