Mental Health Awareness month reveals coping mechanisms

Story by Bailey BohannanStaff writer

May is Mental Health Awareness month and ironically, this time of the year can be considered one of the most stressful times for college students.

“If someone is struggling with anxiety, it may get worse in the face of the added stressors of increased workload and pressure as we approach final exam week,” said Laura Liljequist, supervisor of the Psychological Center at Murray State.

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States and affects 40 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Liljequist said she can’t speak for the greatest concern for college students, but stress and depression are major concerns.

Kristin Douglas, Counseling Clinic Coordinator, said she has noticed an increase in the number of students struggling with anxiety since she started as a college counselor in 2000, though depression is also still common.

Douglas said test anxiety is another concern she notices regularly. She said normally she sees an increase in test anxiety clients from midterms to the end of the semester.

Test anxiety is caused by fear of failure, lack of preparation and poor test history, according to ADAA.

It can have physical symptoms, such as headache, nausea and diarrhea, as well as emotional symptoms and behavioral and cognitive symptoms, according to ADAA.

Angie Trzepacz, director of University Counseling Services, said two of the major issues she sees in the Counseling Center are anxiety and depression. She said some students experience a mixture of both.

“Many students feel that they don’t have time to make counseling a priority at this time in the semester because they are so focused on completing all of their schoolwork before the deadlines,” Trzepacz said.

Murray State has three centers available for students to seek counseling on campus: the Psychological Center in Wells Hall, the Counseling and Assessment Center in Alexander Hall and the University Counseling Service in Oakley Applied Science Building.

Caroline Wells, freshman from Gilbertsville, Kentucky, said she is too busy to consider counseling, despite being stressed as the end of the semester approaches.

“There are more big assignments with shorter deadlines so I’m always rushing to get things done,” Wells said.

Aside from counseling, there are other ways to cope with the stress, test anxiety or depression a student may be facing at this time of the year, Douglas said.

Liljequist said she encourages students to take time and do what they enjoy, take breaks from studying and remember to relax. She also said being physically active, eating well and making sure to get enough sleep can also help prevent anxiety and make this time of the year less stressful. 

Douglas said she encourages students to relax and think positively by reframing their thoughts toward studying for finals and their exams.

She said students can pick up books at the library to help them cope with anxiety and stress, and she said there are also apps that can help someone relax. For example, students can use MyCalmBeat and other paced breathing apps for a few minutes each day to help them calm down.

“There’s something for everyone,” Douglas said. “Hope is available. Help is available.”

Trzepacz said thinking happy thoughts and balancing a schedule between studying, socializing and other outside activities can also help with stress at this time of the year.

“Another strategy is to challenge automatic negative thoughts such as ‘I’m never going to be able to do this’ and replace them with more accurate and helpful thoughts such as ‘This is difficult, but I know I can get through it,’” Trzepacz said.