During finals week in fall 2013, Cristina Stella, a senior biology major, pulled two all-nighters and continued to study until her muscles went into spasms.
“I was so stressed,” Stella said. “I felt like my brain was going to explode.”
This year, with finals less than a month away, Counseling and Psychological Services at Stony Brook is offering events to help prevent students from reaching such high levels of unhealthy stress.
“Stress is a tool that helps mobilize our energy to accomplish hard tasks,” said Julian Pessier, Ph.D., the interim director of CAPS. “But imagine a tool like a hammer. Unhealthy stress is when you take one tool, like a hammer, and you start banging everything with it. You can’t solve everything with a hammer.”
Pessier said now is the time to use stress to map out what the next month will look like so that students have enough time to do work, but are also able to eat healthy, sleep well, take time to exercise and nourish themselves emotionally.
CAPS will continue to offer walk-in mindfulness meditations on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. during Campus Lifetime on the second floor of the Student Health Center. The 15 to 20-minute sessions are aimed to get students to pay attention to their breath and slow down.
“Finding an optimal balance of a lot of study time with a little bit of human time,” Pessier said. “That’s what I consider to be healthy stress.”
To promote balance and help students plan, CAPS started the “Let’s Talk” program this semester. Through the end of finals, CAPS staff members will be stationed at least once a week rotating through residence halls and academic buildings to talk to students. These 10-15 minute check-ins are meant to help make plans for upcoming finals and help keep students on track while also providing a safe space for students to talk about their stress. On Dec. 9, the first day of finals, there will be a “Let’s Talk” event in the Melville Library.
Resident assistants and other organizations on campus are also helping to combat unhealthy stress. They are offering craft nights, movie nights and other events to try to get students to come out and take their minds off their studies.
“These balancing activities, on an emotional level, bring the cheerleader to go with the military commander into balance,” Pessier said.
Matt Gillis, an RA in James College in H Quad, said he finds that talking to students on a personal level eases their stress.
“When someone else is there to have an open ear and an open mind about your problems, those three midterms you have in one week can seem more manageable than they were 10 minutes ago,” Gillis said.
“You’re not just working hard to be the best machine that ever lived,” Pessier said as advice for stressed students. “You’re working hard to be the best person you ever wanted to be.”