As activities, assignments and friends begin to dominate students’ time, priorities get confused. Fortunately, students have resources at their finger tips all over BYU campus to keep them from buckling under the weight of social and academic responsibilities.
Michael Jones, a BYU pre-med student and paraprofessional at the campus career and academic success center, said the workshops offered at the academic success center focus on identifying and breaking down stress.
“A good amount of stress will help you get your homework done, because you’re stressed that you’ve got to get it turned in on time,” Jones said. “But once you go over that peak of effective stress it’s harmful, it slows you down, it inhibits you and then it causes more and more stress as it kind of rolls downhill.”
Jones said one of the workshops offered uses an imaginary character to illustrate the typical BYU student caught in the cycle of not focusing. The imaginary student is Distracted Dave, a student torn between economics homework, a Doctrine & Covenants quiz, Facebook, his friends and his love life.
According to Jones, one important solution to a high quantity of commitments and responsibilities is to prioritize activities and block out time to complete them.
“I had a roommate who was taking organic chemistry,” Jones said. “I would always ask him to come and do stuff, and he’d say, ‘I can’t come and do it right now, but as soon as I’m done with this I can.’ And it would be maybe an hour later, but he’d come and join us, and he didn’t feel like he was missing out on anything. I think a lot of people think they’ll miss out on things if they take the time to get their stuff done first.”
Jones said another solution he offers to students is the importance of working with professors.
“Talking to professors is the number one thing you can do if you are feeling stressed,” Jones said. “I added a class late, and had missed a couple of quizzes because of that. The quizzes were worth a lot of points, so I went and talked to my professor and he was super helpful. I didn’t expect it at all.”
Lawrence Rees, a physics professor, said the best time to help students is from the very beginning when they begin to struggle.
“We have things like tutorial labs and so forth in the department, but if someone’s really struggling, a little time with the professor is usually more productive than time with the tutorial lab, ” Rees said. “I almost always tell students when they come in, ‘The one thing you need to do well when you’re behind is to put more time into the course. And I realize that’s precisely why you’re struggling, because you don’t have time to put into the course. If you want to get back on your feet, I’ll help you, but recognize it’s going to be hard.’ It’s a very individual kind of thing with students.”
Rees said students don’t generally come to him looking for the easy way out rather, they just need a little help gaining control of the material.
“Students mostly don’t want to be treated specially that way,” Rees said. “They want to learn the material, and they want to do well in the class. They just want to have something to get over the hard spot so they can get back on track.
Alex Vaughn, a graphic design student from Las Vegas, Nev., said stress from a heavy workload has weighed heavily on her since she’s been at BYU.
“I think there is something to be said for all of the illnesses and things that have happened to me since I’ve moved here,” Vaughn said. “There is a connection. I feel like it’s not just like I don’t take care of myself so I get colds. A lot of health problems have started since I moved here. It might not be related to my lack of eating or sleeping, but maybe it’s just directly related to stress.”
Vaughn attributes a lot of stress students face to the new experiences they have when coming to college.
“With a lot of students, it’s hard because it’s the first time they’re away from their parents, they have to pay for things they haven’t paid for before, and they’re dealing with academic pressures all at once,” Vaughn said. “It feels very overwhelming, and very bombarding, and I don’t feel like that feeling goes away for a long time. That affects a lot of people, and people need to know that that’s going to be okay.”
Vaughn said the future seems brighter.
“I almost have this vision that as soon as I’m out of school, I’ll be totally fine,” Vaughn said. “I’ll be so fine when it’s over, but I don’t know why I don’t feel like I can have that now. It’s weird, but it’s the truth.”
Rees said perfectionism among students doesn’t help students, and isn’t realistic.
“You look at the students we have at BYU and they’re people that come here that have been on the top of everything they’ve done,” Rees said. “They’re not used to being average, and that can be pretty discouraging sometimes for students. They’re just so used to being on top that they can’t accept the fact that it’s OK to be average. You can still be successful and be a good person and have a good life and be productive in society without always being on top of everything.”