The science of stress: dealing with jitters finals

Although other mental health concerns like panic attacks are not immediately related to stress, but those who experience this issue often see an increase in attacks at this time of year. (File/The Daily Campus)

Finals week can often prove to be a stressful time for students at the University of Connecticut, but there are ways to combat this stress and understand its effects better, according to psychology professor Crystal Park.

Park, whose research interests include stress-related growth and mind-body relationships, said there is first a significant difference between chronic stress and the acute stressors associated with college.

“Some of the more acute stressors we’re talking about with the end of the semester, the holidays, travel and transitions,” Park said. “Chronic stress is more financial problems, relationship problems and family problems. They wax and wane, but they are kind of always there in the background. Acute stressors are more immediate.”

Park said it is often easy for college students to identify when they may be feeling stressed out or may need a break from the activity causing them to feel that way.

“The signs are being irritable, feeling overwhelmed and feeling like you don’t see how you’re going to get things done,” Park said. “You could also be feeling tense and be having a lot of muscle tension in your back.”

Although other mental health concerns like panic attacks are not immediately related to stress, but those who experience this issue often see an increase in attacks at this time of year.

“Panic attacks are different than your normal run-of-the-mill stress. They’re more about having some physiological issues with your nervous system,” Park said. “But for someone who does have panic attacks this might be a really difficult time for them.”

Park, who is an avid researcher on the science behind yoga, said she recommends the practice and meditation for students who feel they need to de-stress at any point in their college careers or lives.

“Calming your breath and your mind is always going to be a good skill to have and will help people if they’re going to be anxious about exams,” Park said. “There’s free yoga on campus and there is a yoga club, so I’d definitely suggest those.”

Park said the issue with stress is that it is triggered by the fight-or-flight response. The human brain, however, tends to view tests, large assignments and other events as threatening, which activates said response, she added.

“People will think about things in ways that greatly exacerbate their stress. The fight or flight response is really for if a dog is running at you and showing its teeth,” Park said. “We get that response a lot because of what we do in our mind to heighten our sense of threat. But it’s not useful because you’re just trying to focus on studying.”

Ohm Patel, a first-semester biology major and member of the UConn men’s rowing team, said his days as a college student are often stressful and require sacrifices, like missing social events and losing sleep.

“I’m up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to go to practice for 5 a.m., so sleep is a rare thing for me, but I try to schedule naps,” Patel said.

Patel said, as a biology major, he is often stressed with introductory classes that often serve as means to eliminate students who are not prepared for the major or its demands.

“I basically take weed-out classes, like Biology 1107 and Chemistry 1127Q,” Patel said. “Lately my stress level has been around a nine out of 10 because I have lab practicals and chemistry exams, so I’m just at a very high stress level.”

Patel said he has certain strategies he uses to calm himself down before attending class, a test or another large event that would normally cause his stress level to rise.

“I listen to a lot of music. Basically, my walk to and from class is my time to listen to music and tune out,” Patel said. “Rowing also helps because when I’m on the lake, the sun is rising and I’m with people, nothing else matters except getting through practice.”


Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.