As we approach the last stretch of what seems like a never-ending term, the weight on everyone’s shoulders gets heavier thinking forward to that moment where we have to hand in our last submissions. Deadline season – it’s an unsettling time where on one hand, you’re excited to finish your work and finally let loose over Easter.
On the other, your mind feels as though its being pushed to its very limits and the stress begins to take over. Whether you’re a first-year or Masters student – countless nights spent in a full library, pushing yourself to get those last thousand words down is undoubtedly both physically and mentally exhausting.
A 2011 NUS report found that over 90% of students feel as though exams and assessments are a significant source of stress, and it seems that this is an issue that could still be prevalent today. When asked by Truthfal whether the stress of deadlines has caused changes to their lifestyle or their mental health, over half of Falmouth and Exeter University students participating in our survey said that they have experienced increased levels of anxiety*. One second-year student said: “I can’t sleep at night, I have stress rashes and I rip my hair out at night.”
We put this kind of pressure on ourselves for a number of other reasons; the fear of failure, wanting to get value for our money, and sometimes because we regrettably procrastinate and then rush to get everything done. Cramming or leaving our work until the very last minute is a cardinal sin that the majority of us are guilty of – but it can have serious consequences for our brain and our body. Research has found that forcing ourselves to complete work late can kill brain cells, lessen our creativity and the stress that comes along with this can also be linked to diabetes. So, why do we do it? It’s a question that we ask ourselves every time, why do we choose procrastination over productivity?
Guy Gardener, a 20-year-old history student at Exeter University told Truthfal: “On a whole, we push the notion of doing work forward a day or a week because we think at that point in the future, we will be different and that will allow us to do the work – but actually, we need to be doing that work in the present moment. I think that is mixed with the anxiety that doing the work brings and sitting down at the desk forces you to focus on the things that cause you stress.”
Well, there is a reason why we can only focus our work when the clock really starts ticking. The stress hormones released when we start working so close to our deadlines is apparently somewhat addictive and the feeling of accomplishment and relief when we finally hand in after hours of relentless writing has been found to act as a ‘pick-me-up’, which many begin to rely on and resultantly becomes our only means of motivation.
The truth is that since a young age, we’ve been told that getting the best possible grades will open the doors to our future. It’s no surprise that during our years of studies, there is an overwhelming pressure to succeed. In an increasingly competitive job market, we go from wanting to stand out, to needing to stand out from the rest of our peers in order to find a job – and when we don’t succeed, it can damage our self-worth. Another student who took our survey said: “It makes my already bad mental health, even worse. Because it makes me feel as though I’m going to fail and that I’m not good enough, which also means that I worry more and sleep less.”
Yes, thinking about our future is important – it’s not necessarily a bad thing to want to succeed, but is it worth risking our mental health for? Research by Manchester University found that between April and May, 96 people under the age of 25 took their own life and almost one in three teen suicides occurred when students were either taking their exams or waiting for their results. It is a troubling reality which perhaps reflects how misunderstood deadline stress is. Nearly 50% of the students participating in our survey felt as though their stress was perceived as invalid by friends and family who don’t study, and many have thought that more support could be given by universities for those struggling due to an intense workload.
One student said: “We need much more visible support from university, more counsellors and more of a push on mental awareness.”
Susanna Parker, a counsellor for FXU Student Services said: “The difficulty is that the NHS offer the same level of counselling and it fluctuates as to who has the longer waiting list. So, a student has a choice whether they want to go to counselling through Student Services. The waiting list can be long and we can’t guarantee how long that will be.
Our staffing has increased ridiculously. By the end of this term, we have enough counsellors but we don’t have enough rooms. We have more counsellors now so we can provide that [support], but I think one area that needs to be looked as is providing skills and strategies for students more, though.”
*Results from the survey are taken from a small sample of students at Falmouth and Exeter University but is not intended as proven or scientific research.