AO: Oh, yeah. Like right now, we’re swamped. We will see people during finals, but it generally is the week or so leading up to finals where people are just thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t see a way out. I’ve got to go talk to somebody.” Generally, by the time we actively hit finals, people have just — they’re already geared in. They’re dug in, they’re going to do what they can do and they’re going to get it done. But yes, we definitely see an increase in the spring, from spring break to finals, and in the fall, really from Halloween to finals. It is very busy.
DTH: What are common unhealthy behaviors you see students doing during finals?
AO: Moving to extremes. Let’s say that I’ve been, you know, sort of procrastinating all semester and all of a sudden I’m like “Ahh!” And then I’m like, “OK, I’m going to just go to the store, I’m going to get a lot of granola bars, and I’m going to go to the library, and I’m not going to sleep, and I’m going to keep amphetamines to keep myself awake, and I’m just going to push through this.” That’s not going to work over a 10-day period. You know, you might be able to pull that off for 24 hours, but that’s not going to work when you’ve got a prolonged period. You have to be more moderate and say, “I don’t really have enough sleep, but I must sleep because if I don’t sleep, I’m going to completely come unglued, and I’m not going to be able to do anything.” If I normally sleep nine hours a night, it’d be great if I could do that, but if I can’t, let’s drop back to seven. Let’s use those other two hours and pace myself and really set up a schedule.
DTH: What are some problems that students can face when they deal with stress in unhealthy ways?
AO: If you don’t, to some degree, keep some form of balance — depending on what your weakest link is — that’s going to go. In mental health, we talk about the weak links of panic attacks, or the weak link of poor self-esteem, or the weak link of getting depressed, or the weak link of not being able to fall asleep. You don’t want to get to the place where you’re pulling your hair.
For me, my big thing is I get stressed, and I just quit working out and I’m like, “I’m going to quit working out, and it’s everybody else’s fault that I’m not working out.” Well, that’s not really healthy. I should go work out, not work out for like five hours, but work out just a little bit. We see people’s weak links showing up, whatever it is. If the weak link is poor body image, then that’s what shows up. If the weak link is crippling anxiety, then that’s what shows up. What you’re trying to do is get your chain as strong as possible ahead of time, so even the weakest link is not weak.
DTH: What do you recommend to students who have trouble managing their stress well?
AO: Find somebody you trust because you don’t want to melt down in front of somebody who you can’t trust. Find somebody that you trust and be like, “Can I just talk to you for 30 minutes because I’m completely in over my head?” Generally, even if that other person is in over their head, they’re not in over their head with the same things that you’re in over your head with. In fact, I must say, being a therapist, that I actually stay probably more well-balanced mentally just because I’m giving people good advice all day long. If I was doing something else, I wouldn’t be thinking about all the smart things I should be doing, but that’s actually what I do for a living and so that helps me. If you have been training all your life for things to go wrong, then you’re going to show up when that’s ready. Not training, like negative training, but training like if I am constantly preparing myself to be balanced, then I’m preparing myself for those times when things get unbalanced and when I have too much to do.
DTH: What are some ways to recover?
AO: Get some sleep, eat well, get some exercise. What I suggest to people is take care of yourself, like you would take care of somebody that you care for. If you don’t have somebody to take care of you, then do what you need to do. Get the sleep, eat the good food. Don’t sit around and just binge watch Netflix and eat junk. Do those things to make yourself healthier so when the next semester starts, you’re in a really healthy place to start it. Then do the idea of the practice — whatever the practice is that allows one to manage their stress. In a down time like the holidays, find a practice. If you don’t have a practice, find a practice and just start. Start practicing something that’s good for your mind and body, and then continue that. What will happen is, three weeks into the semester you’re going to want to bail on that. You’re going to be like, “Whatever, I don’t have time for that.” That is the exact time not to bail. The whole point of the practice is stick with the practice no matter what, and it will stick.