Dealing with "crunch time" stress

By Julia Skikavich
Special to

"Too much work and not enough time. That's what stresses me out," says Erin Skalski, a fine arts major at Queen's University.

Fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, Chris Olson, agrees. "It's all about time and I just keep running out of it."

It's the essay and exam crunch and university students across Canada are dealing with increased stress and anxiety. But like many Canadians, even though students are aware of the health side effects of stress, they have difficulty slowing down and dealing with the influx of assignments in November and December.

"When I get very stressed, my body gets tired a lot," says Jaimie Bordman, an engineering physics major at Carleton. "It's almost like my body would rather shut down than deal with the assignments."

Bordman isn't alone in having his body feel the side effects of stress and anxiety. Megan Harrison is a second-year student at Carleton who has managed to get sick right in the midst of crunch time.

"I guess not sleeping for like, four nights, wasn't the best choice," she jokes while nursing her cold. "I'm just trying to do a lot at once and juggling everything."

Jane Keeler, a counsellor at Carleton University's health services, says that time management is one of the most important factors in easing stress during the busy months of the academic year.

"You need to look at long-range planning," she says. "That way you can parcel out work over weeks, rather than hours."

Keeler says another important part of time management is feeling like you're doing the most efficient thing with your time. "Talk to your professor or TA," she says. "Make sure you're on the right track on assignments. That reassurance is a big help."

She says it is not uncommon for students to begin to feel sick during the "crunch" period. "It gets hard to sort out body stress from the flu," she says, adding many students complain of bouts of insomnia, stomachaches and headaches. Though these are common symptoms related to anxiety, she says there should be concern if these physical problems lead to emotional or mental problems.

Bordman has experienced this, saying the stress of school can sometimes cause him to become depressed.

Keeler suggests students keep a journal to help combat stress-related depression. New research indicates students who write about their lives have 50 per cent less colds during the academic year.

"It gives students a place to put their anxieties and their accomplishments, too. It can be helpful."

Other suggestions to reduce stress are spending at least 30 minutes each day in natural sunlight, limiting caffeine intake (which can increase feelings of anxiety), and increasing exercise.

Bordman, who has just taken up yoga, says he enjoys the workout, but also finds it calming. Olson's relaxants are the martial art jiu-jitsu and music.

"I find that most stress usually comes from your mind," says Bordman. "If you have a problem, the stress is usually worse when you think and worry about it." He adds that students should talk about their stressing or write down pros and cons of various situations. But when asked if he takes his own advice he retracts. "No, but it sounds good."

Keeler says that many students, like Bordman, know what they should be doing to combat stress but have difficulty putting it into action. "Take the time to go and ask for advice and help."

Most campuses have health and counselling services available to their students to provide help and advice with stress- and anxiety-related problems, including depression. Services range from advice on long-range planning to referrals to psychologists. Any students having difficulties during the "crunch" period are encouraged to take advantage of these services.

Modified on April 23, 2009