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Monday, April 22, 2024

The confusing phenomena of post-finals stress


Why spring break can be worse than finals week

Throughout the tireless slog of finals week, nothing sounds better than the idea of relaxing and doing nothing during spring break.

Students look for any excuse to distract themselves from their studies — they count the minutes until their last finals are over and fantasize about the relief of finally taking a seat on a plane headed home or to an exciting vacation location.

However, once free from the oppressive grip of that last final, the many students who don’t have fancy travel plans or jobs to keep them busy simply don’t know what to do with the nine days, or 777,600 seconds, of free time that has just been thrown into their laps.

Here is a look at why many students probably cannot wait to return to the pressure and strain of studying for midterms and finals.


The Value of Free Time

Students think about their free time as an economic good: when they don’t have much of it, its value skyrockets, and when they have it in abundance, it’s worthless because it simply can’t all be filled. In the midst of the chaotic finals-cramming sessions, a stressed out, sleep-deprived student with a sore back will find any number of reasons to take a break from hunching over their laptop and textbooks to move around. With only eight hours to go until their hardest final, a student might suddenly think it is a good idea to get groceries, do their laundry, repot a plant or watch a movie, just as a way to give their brain a rest and to temporarily break free from their academic obligations.

However, once the student has crossed into the promised land of spring break, they experience a psychological shift. What they previously saw as a needed, deserved study now becomes an unfathomable chore. The idea of getting up off of the couch to make a sandwich, to vacuum, or even to just use the restroom is unthinkable and requires an inordinate amount of effort. During the whirlwind of finals week, relaxing to watch a movie, check social media or just take a nap is thought of as being a great way to procrastinate and to escape, but when there are actually oceans of time to spend as one pleases, it seems too good to be true. If a student thinks about watching a movie over break, they might try talking themself out of it, because surely there is a better way they could spend their free time.

Luckily, with the start of Spring Quarter, free time will finally have value again because it can again be considered a distraction from something else.


Routine Adjustment

During finals week, many students are running on fumes, staying up until all hours of the night and consuming coffee at an alarming rate. It can be difficult to immediately switch back to a normal, healthy routine for a week, and many students do not.

Coffee is the equal and opposite force by which students prevent themselves from being crushed by the gravity-like force of school. When school is removed from the equation and the coffee is not, it is as if the student is suddenly sucked into the vacuum of space. They may find themselves waking up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep or craving three shots of espresso at midnight.

Over break, habits like these severely impact one’s ability to get a healthy amount of sleep and to interact with their family during what most people consider normal hours of the day. A student may feel alienated when they should feel happy back home amongst their family and friends.

Fortunately, the term is starting again, and insomniac, polyphasic sleepers who drink seven cups of coffee per day will no longer feel like outcasts. Sitting down in that 8 a.m. lecture or walking into the 24-hour study room in the middle of the night with a steaming cup coffee will bring an overwhelming sense of comfort and serenity.


Choices and Decision Making

At times of maximum stress and responsibility, survival instincts kick in and force students to make decisions quickly. Much of the time, there are only a few things to focus on and it is essential to just choose one and be as productive and efficient as possible. Choosing when, where and what to eat becomes a decision that is not worth dwelling on.

This limited choice of how to spend time can be quite comforting because everything else just falls away so one can focus on the task at hand, whether that’s catching a bus, finishing studying a certain amount before a final, meeting with a study group or grabbing lunch.

However, once on spring break, there is simply too much choice, too many ways to spend one’s time. The risk of not spending time efficiently is too great, so it is crucial to carefully consider all possible choices for how to spend time to ensure that the best possible option is taken. Friends home from college might fritter away a solid three hours driving around town trying to decide what to do. The act of deciding what movie to watch may end up taking more time than actually watching the movie.

Clearly, students are less happy when they have an abundance of choice and much prefer limiting their free will in order to stay busy and productive. As it happens, students suffering from any or all of these symptoms of post-finals stress are in luck because it is now time to head back into the war against the curve!



Written by: Benjamin Porter— features@theaggie.org


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