Jason Wu/Sun Staff Photographer

February 16, 2022

As Prelims Approach, Students and Experts Discuss Effects of Stress on Mental Health

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The recent switch to in-person classes has excited many students for the semester ahead, but as the first week of prelims approaches, some have expressed apprehension about the start of exams due to the stress they faced last semester. 

In November, occurrences of bomb threats and gunmen on campus were followed by finals week. Students including Lindsey Feinstein ’24 and Amber Lao ’24 expressed that they feel built up pressure to finish their assignments and perform on their exams while many are still struggling with poor mental health. 

For many, online classes were not an easy undertaking. Feinstein spoke on the stress that online finals this past semester gave her. 

“This shift was very abrupt, and it was anxiety-inducing to shift gears into a different format of learning,” said Feinstein.

Feinstein said that students have felt a decline in their academic process due to external factors, such as the bomb threats and the gunmen announcement. Feinstein said the threats made her feel less safe on campus, which consequently disrupted her daily routine.

“The current exam period has made me distracted, drained and most definitely tired with the academic pressure,” said Feinstein. 

After just one week of in-person classes this spring semester, Feinstein has noticed a difference in her academic performance when approaching her schoolwork and studies.

“I am much more energized, focused and motivated having a fresh start to in-person classes before this upcoming period of exams,” said Feinstein. 

She also noted, however, that she is particularly stressed and overwhelmed from making this shift back to in-person classes and immediately facing exams.

According to Catherine Thrasher-Caroll, mental health promotion program director at Cornell Health, some stress can be motivating, but too much leaves people feeling overwhelmed. She noted that prioritizing self-care –taking study breaks or practicing five minute stress busters such as deep breathing or meditation – can make an impact on how students feel and how they perform academically. 

Thrasher-Caroll also mentioned in her interview with The Sun that students can attend CAPS-led workshops or virtual guided meditation sessions provided by Cornell Health to manage their anxiety and remain grounded.

“Many students still face stigma about seeking mental health care, and starting a formal process of seeking treatment can be intimidating,” Thrasher-Carrol said. 

Other students, such as Lao, described how they encountered difficulty accessing Cornell’s mental health resources despite reaching out for support.

“Cornell mental health services are not always easily available, as appointments take a long time to schedule,” said Lao.

Several organizations on campus are working to address mental health problems directly, such as Cornell Minds Matter, a student-led mental health awareness and advocacy organization that provides students with mental health related resources ranging from professional health services to de-stressing events.

“Students at Cornell are tired all the time, and external factors such as last semester’s threatening events add extra stress and are anxiety-inducing,” said Leadora Kyin ’22, social media chair of CMM.

According to Kyin, some common elements that degrade student mental health include poor nutrition, lack of sleep, social pressure and academic burnout. Bianca Beckwith ’22, president of CMM, claimed that the most salient stressor right now is the lack of a more empathetic response from upper level administration. She said that there is also an absence of accountability for  inconsistent responses from professors. 

“Students are uncomfortable and disappointed that they had to trudge through the end of classes with professors who are not valuing student wellbeing,” said Beckwith.

Beckwith expressed frustration with Cornell Health and their poor outreach to students who do not want to face the stressors from struggling to find help on top of their already stressful academic lives.

“The most crucial thing, as students mention, is having an outlet to escape in such a stressful time,” Beckwith said. “Budgeting time in daily classes and study schedules for self-care is necessary to staying mentally healthy, especially during final exam week when stress levels are spiking.”