23:34 PM

Anxiety, stress often rises at semester's end; Counseling Services can help


The bad news is, it’s perfectly normal for college students to feel more stressed than usual toward the end of the semester. The good news is, there’s a lot students can do to keep stress in check so the final weeks of the semester do not become overwhelming.

Stefanie Denu, a licensed clinical psychologist in University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Counseling Services, said that students often feel additional pressure and anxiety at the beginning of the semester, when they are transitioning into new classes and trying to understand the expectations of their professors and coursework, and at the end of the semester, when they are finishing final projects and preparing for final exams.

“Students can become proactively overwhelmed at the start of the semester when they look ahead at what they must accomplish, and then overwhelmed again when they realize they have not been proactive enough, they have allowed things to build up, or perhaps have let themselves get behind,” she said. “It’s like a pressure cooker. Eventually, things will burst. We have students coming to us wanting to find ways to navigate the situation, help get off academic probation, and find a way to get through the semester successfully.”

She said some students can become overwhelmed and proactive, but others who have been experiencing depression could have spent a lot of time isolating before realizing they need help.

“Anxiety and stress are the number one presenting concerns that we see here in Counseling Services, followed by depression,” she said. “Many reasons for this might not be related to academics. We have seen students who have experienced childhood or more recent trauma, or they have had anxiety and depression for a long time. Some students have experienced violence and abuse, and there are many ways anxiety and depression can manifest from that.”

She added that many students might still be recovering from the isolation resulting from COVID lockdowns. “That was a two-year period of time when students were very isolated and spent a lot of time in their heads,” she said. “That can be a major risk factor because most of such thoughts aren’t positive. When you’re in your head too much, you’re blaming yourself for things, or thinking too much about things that aren’t going well. Students coming out of that period can be having difficulty breaking out of that.”

Many students describe their stress as “overthinking,” or an inability to stop ruminating on something, causing distraction from things like classwork and academics. “Students will say they can’t get anything done because they’re thinking too much,” she said.

Among students’ greatest stressors, Denu continued, is social media. “We see students struggling with their own core and self-worth based on what they see on social media,” she said. “That’s a maintaining factor for things like depression. You always have a sense that you’re not good enough, always chasing some version of self-worth. But who’s choosing that version? Other people—that’s why the sense of controlling your own narrative is lost.”

Denu said that talking can help relieve anxiety and stress. “Just naming your stress and your anxiety can bring a sense of reality to it and when it’s validated by a clinician, that your problem is real and it’s clear why you’re struggling, can really help,” she said. “We can make a plan together.”

Counseling Services offers individual therapy, options for group therapy, and a Mind Spa biofeedback and relaxation room which is available for all students during office hours and includes two massage chairs, aromatherapy, yoga mats and biofeedback equipment.

“Stress can manifest physically,” she said. “People do not connect that their nausea or heart racing is because of the stress they’re holding in their body. Biofeedback is a type of therapy that uses sensors that attach to the body and can measure heartbeat and breathing rate, and helps people develop better control over slowing down their breathing, heart rate, and relaxing muscles.”

Services and support are available to students free of charge. Counseling Services has a staff of six licensed therapists as well as a consulting mental health nurse practitioner. For more information, go online.