Deal with it
Throbbing pain is starting from your forehead and spreading to your temples. Your vision seems blurry and you can’t focus on your laptop. A tension headache like this one could be caused by many things: inadequate rest, mental stress, hunger, or fatigue. Sound like your Wednesday night?
College students are notorious for their high-stress, pressured lifestyles. At this time of year, the second week after spring break, students are hit particularly hard. Surely you’ve noticed how much the semester seems to become one giant cram session after March 15. As well as classwork, students combat job and internship searches, hunt for housing, and work to finalize research and thesis projects. Linda Hooper, the director of Academic Development, notes that after midterm grades come out, the attendance at tutoring and other help sessions goes up significantly.
Each person deals with stress differently, but students experiencing stress from multiple sources (not just schoolwork, but job searches, for instance) must learn to prioritize. They must also try to stay stable so they don’t ruin their chances at a job by looking like an underfed zombie at their interviews.
Academic Development started running stress and time management sessions a few years ago in response to student demand for help with these issues. Hooper noted that there are five things a student should do to help with stress levels.
Get support: Call a friend and instead of bitching about work, talk about V for Vendetta and how awesome it was.
Look up: Stay on the sunny side of life, perhaps by buying a frozen fruit bar — a guaranteed pick-me-up, by all accounts.
Laugh more: Your physics problem set might be ruining your life, but your professor’s accent is pretty hilarious, especially if you mimic it while reciting lines from Zoolander.
Get in shape: If you don’t have time for long workouts, try short walks instead. It helps clear your head and has the added bonus of airing out that sweater you haven’t washed since February.
Believe: Have something you believe in, on an individual level. This can be as conventional as Catholicism or as wonky as talking to trees.
Time management can seem impossible. There are weeks when things don’t actually fit into the open slots you have available, especially when activities such as Greek Sing or intramural tennis add to your commitments. Jody Lange, who last semester balanced work as a second-year grad student in design and a full-time employee at PR firm Burson-Marsteller, has been combating high-stress situations for years. Assignments often come in on the fly, and Lange has to debate whether she’ll write an ad for a client or stick with her other time commitments. She emphasizes the importance of having a list that can be adapted throughout the day. She also remembers the words of Stephen Covey, author of First Things First and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. She explains his concept as essentially saying that “unless we make the time for things that are important but not urgent, we’ll never get to them, because we do the things that are urgent first.” One simple example can be attempting to make time for your friends when you have small assignments popping up. The urgent things must not rule your life.
It’s one thing to tell yourself you will try to take time out and get support to help reduce stress. But students can forget even the most stern advice in the way of their many tasks. I suggest accomplishing things even while you rest from the most stressful work. Break from your 12-page paper and take a walk. But instead of walking to the Kraus Campo, walk to Entropy and pick up a yogurt. Or go check your snail mail. Or make your friend in West Wing happy by finally returning his copy of Booze, Broads, and Bullets. By accomplishing something while resting from your “urgent” work, you will get your chores done while still taking a break.
Achieving the balance between job search and academic work can be the hardest stressor of all. Finding an internship is stress from start to finish. “It’s like diving into the ocean from outer space and hoping you land on an island,” said Allison Kolb, a junior creative writing major, about the daunting search for summer work. Students must be aware of how a high stress level could affect them during interviews. Both academic work and summer jobs can seem equally important. At the risk of sounding like your mom, I suggest you start quite early.
Part of the benefit of an early start will allow you to take your cover letter and résumé to Career Services. Occasionally they offer walk-in service and will look over these materials for you. Lange, who in addition to her work for Burson-Marsteller also teaches a course in corporate communications, said that proofreading is a vital part of the process for materials you send to an employer. Set aside 30 minutes for yourself or a friend to look over your cover letter before you send it into the world.
Another thing Lange said helps score employment is to truly have passion for the job you are applying for. Note your love of the field or excitement about the position in cover letters and during interviews. I know time is tight, but you’ll thank me later when you’re working for Google.