End-of-year student stress


A healthy mind and body are critical for students coping with December stress, experts say.

As Christmas approaches, most students are doing everything but celebrating.

Stress for students comes from an array of sources: staying awake all night to get final projects done, family problems or even gift shopping.

“Just trying to finish all my final assignments and having so many assignments due in the same week is stressful,” says Interior Decorating student Sarah Mohamed. “Not having the resources as well.”

Textbook pile. (Photography by Nicole Calhau / The Sheridan Sun)

Textbook pile. (Photography by Nicole Calhau / The Sheridan Sun)

While it may seem easier to freak out and run away from it all, that isn’t necessarily the greatest option, especially since end-of-semester marks can be crucial to whether a student will be returning to school in January.

And when stress reaches peak levels, sometimes the brain simply can’t cope.

“During stress, the brain starts to pump out cortisol and your muscles prepare to go into fight or flight. It’s a defensive function but it doesn’t help with quality of life,” said Ingrid Dresher, psychodynamic therapist and chief executive officer for Dynamic Teambuilders Inc., a company that leads workshops for team building in Toronto.

“The issue is having a healthy amount of stress that stimulates you in a good way, but also doesn’t take you over the top.”

One very helpful way to help get stress levels down is through physical activity, such as yoga, exercise, or dancing, Dresher adds.

When dealing with our mental health, balance is most important. It complements our emotional state; it’s an important way of learning what our needs are and how we can meet those needs, she says.

“Physical activity is actually a natural antidepressant. If you’re doing anything cardiovascular for more than 30 minutes, there are hormones that are released into the brain, the serotonin, that are similar to the effect of being on a antidepressant but without the obvious side effects,” said Stephen Douglas, psychotherapist for familycounselling.net, which has offices in Toronto and Oakville.

“Some people don’t know it, but you will actually feel better when you go out and experience psychical activity.”

For those who need immediate help, Douglas recommends crisis hotlines.


Crisis lines are not just for those struggling with suicidal thoughts. They offer a safe space where a caller can speak with someone confidentially about virtually any mental health problem – including anxiety and panic attacks.

When a person is experiencing a panic attack they might feel shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, hyper-vigilance, physical sensation of the heart, sweat or icy palms.

“It’s more common than we know, because people are usually embarrassed to say that they’ve had a panic attack and a lot of times they don’t even know they had a panic attack. It’s very common,” said Dresher.

“Just listen and help calm them down, help get them grounded. Going for a walk with them, reassurance that they’ll stay with them until the person is feeling better. Reaching out is really important.”

The most useful way to eliminate stress, according to Dresher, is to have some downtime and have fun.

If you could use some support, Sheridan’s Student Counselling Services recommends calling any of the following resources:

Good2Talk 1-866-925-5454

Distress Centre Peel 905-278-7208

Distress Centre Oakville 905-849-4541

The Jack Project 1-800-668-6868

The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386

Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-686