Every Tuesday and Thursday, sophomore Morgan Whittle runs the gauntlet from classes to work at Sanford Hospital, starting her day at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m.
Then it’s time for homework, studying and perhaps some food. On her non-work days, Whittle loses the nursing garb and dons dance shoes, spending several hours in practice for the USD dance team. With such a demanding schedule, Whittle has contemplated alternative to typical campus education.
“I’ve thought about not being in school before,” Whittle said. “I’ve definitely looked at where I could possibly cut back but right now, I can’t do anything to change. It’s very stressful, and I feel burned out sometimes.”
University of South Dakota Coordinator of Prevention Service Lauren Schuur said many students visit the counseling center because of academic and work-related stress. When academic and extracurricular commitments become too much, some students reach a breaking point.
“Even within 10 years, students have a higher demand of activities and work, as many of them work full-time,” Schuur said.
Schuur estimated at least 40 to 50 percent of the clients she counsels need help with academic stress and other students convey anxiety about their grades even when visiting for other reasons.
“People will come in worried about a relationship, and then you talk to them, and you see that they’re stressed about school as well,” Schurr said.
While most students experience some kind of anxiety or stress because of school or work, Schuur said there are several signs a student may be getting burned out.
“One of the more severe signs would be a panic attack or anxiety attack, usually before a big presentation or test that a large portion of their grade depends on,” she said. “Some students get very ill, they wake up and are sick to their stomach and might throw up because they get so anxious.
Loss of sleep and skipping meals also indicates a negative pattern for students. Whittle said she rarely eats on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“I have an issue with finding time to eat,” she said. “I pay so much for a meal plan, but I really don’t have time to eat a meal until about 11 p.m. and it’s not very good — usually McDonald’s.”
Over time, these repeated behaviors can lead to a constant state of anxiety and lack of focus, Schuur said. It’s at this point when students are most vulnerable to make the decision to drop out completely.
“If you are taking on endless amounts of work, there are some consequences,” she said. “They’re more likely to make poor decisions because they are tired and act impulsively. They may suddenly decide on a random night to drop out because they believe they can’t handle it anymore.”
Students may also turn to a substance to either relax them or their abilities to work more, Schuur said. This includes taking drugs (contact rehabs near me )normally prescribed for attention disorders, such as Adderall, to stay up and study. However, the perceived benefit is not worth the definitive risk.
“It’s not healthy at all,” she said. “Medication is prescribed to an individual to a reason and it’s important to remember it. A lot of times medication is started at a lower dose and works up. If someone’s on a higher dose of something, the body needs time to react to that and can really react poorly.”
While Whittle has felt burned out at times, staying in school remains a priority.
“Dropping out is not an option,” she said. “I really want to finish school in four years, and while that may not be a realistic goal, I know it would make my parents proud and that’s why I want to do it.”
Whittle said she’s comforted by her family members, who have advised her to remember her current situation is temporary.
“I have to remind myself this is only temporary and it won’t be like this forever,” Whittle said. “I know when I am done I will feel accomplished and proud of what I did.”
To cope with day-to-day stress, Whittle said students should focus only on the task at hand, whether it’s getting through the next class or making it one more hour at work. She said a regimented schedule planned hour-by-hour fostered this mentality.
The sophomore nursing major also forces herself to focus on herself when she is most anxious.
“I try to worry about myself only,” Whittle said. “It sounds bad and is kind of selfish, but a lot of my stress comes from worrying about other people like what my mom thinks if I get a bad grade on a test or if I have to cut back on hours what my boss might think.”
In addition to planning out their day on an hourly basis, Schuur said she recommends her clients find outlets to help them stay positive about their daily outlook.
“The biggest thing I talk to students about is ‘me’ time,” she said. “Focusing on yourself and doing some mind relaxation. Even doing something as simple as giving yourself a pep talk to start your day off helps.”
Schuur said meditation and solid sleep also alleviates stress-related fatigue. While some students experiencing burnout may not be willing to share their struggles with peers, Schuur said talking through difficulties could prevent a spur of the moment decision to dropout.
“I would recommend coming to the counseling center or talking with a professor or academic adviser they are close with,” Schuur said. “Here, we can talk about everything going on and help with time management and weigh pros and cons of everything. But at least talk to someone about what’s going on.”
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