The past weeks I have been studying for finals (to ensure a timely graduation), applying to graduate schools, and deciding what I am going to do with the trivial thing called “my future.” Not to mention tacking on a social life and work schedule and squeezing time in for yoga. While all of this is exciting, to say I’m stressed is an understatement. I am not alone in feeling up to my ears with life.
So how do students cope with stress? There are many ways students check off the boxes on their to-do lists. People go to the gym, eat, drink, shop, Facebook-stalk, listen to music, spend time with loved ones, and the list goes on.
I’ve recently noticed a more unconventional way students prevent procrastination and get it all done: Many students buckle down by taking the pill mostly commonly known by its brand name, Adderall. The pill induces speedy studying, long-lasting focus, quick weight loss, and motivation to clean your room, your housemate’s room, and your boyfriend’s room like Mom is coming to visit. But wait-isn’t this a prescription drug for people with ADD and ADHD?
Adderall is a stimulant medication. Once taken, the pill, composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, is said to increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine surging in the brain. This chemical effect is widely reported to increase alertness, concentration, cognitive performance, and even libido. No wonder there is fear of growing dependence and addiction: seems like the perfect cure for stress. After all, we are the multi-tasking generation, so why not increase our capability?
Adderall, and other stimulant study drugs, are more commonly used than many may think. Whether it’s prescribed for them or not, many students take the pill in doses of 5, 10, 15 or 30 milligrams. This has caused concern on many levels. One is that the pill grants an unfair advantage to non-prescribed users who reap the positive effects of the drug (while creating a disadvantage for those who truly cannot focus without it-their sources for the drug).
But Adderall also poses the danger of major health problems, especially when used recreationally. In the U.S., Adderall is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substance Act due to having potential for addiction and major effects on blood pressure. Its side effects become even more risky when this study drug, used as a party drug, is combined with alcohol.
I interviewed Dr. Elizabeth Downing, director of UCSB student health, to get her opinion on the topic. “We know it’s out there, there’s no question about that,” Dr. Downing said. Adderall is commonly prescribed for students with ADD and ADHD at Student health and the number of those cases increases yearly. “Obviously we prescribe it here for students with ADD,” she said. “We strive to be really accountable”.
Doctors at UCSB Student Health makes sure that each person who may have ADD or ADHD visits the counseling center, social workers, and/or psychiatrists. The Disabled Student Program is involved in the process of diagnosing a patient. Dr. Downing warns, “We know it’s used, and freely exchanged, and we know it is on the street. We don’t accept the ‘somebody stole it’ excuse” when students attempt to pick up additional refills.
So what is Dr. Downing’s advice to eliminate stress? “Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!” advises Dr. Downing, who swims daily. Even if a student feels they do not have the time during busy finals week, Dr. Downing encourages students to exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day because “paradoxically they will have more energy.”
Whether one uses study pills or not, stress often brings out the quirks in even the most normal of people. Sandwiched between mountains of books I have yet to read for finals, and a GRE study guide, I watched one of my favorite shows, “Life on the D List.” The premise is the behind-the-scene life of Kathy Griffin, a comedian and actress in Hollywood. During this episode, Griffin joked about her assistant who has a condition called “trichotillomania.” This disorder is characterized by people pulling their eyebrows, eye lashes, and any other hair capable of being pulled when they are nervous or stressed. I furrowed my eyebrows thinking that trickatilamania (while admittedly a curious side-effect of stress), is only one example of coping with stress. It is interesting to think about the odd habits that many people may not realize they have.
The other day I found myself plucking my eyebrows to flawlessness, re-organizing a Halloween costume box I won’t use for another year, and perfecting all the names in my phone’s address book. I also tend to schedule and reschedule my days as if doing so actually accomplishes something. Procrastination? I think so. I realized that we all have our ways of dealing with stress, some more off-the-wall than others.
So I took a little survey, asking people how they handle stress.
“I bake mainly, or Facebook, munch, and sometimes do yoga. I also untangle things, like necklaces,” Briana Anter, a good friend and senior at UCSB, told me. She admitted, “If my necklaces are orderly I roll and bunch them till they are tangled. Then I untangle them.”
Victoria Hadeler, another close friend in preparation for graduation confesses, “I groom incessantly, or clean the house.”
Stephanie Cohen, a UCSB senior majoring in Sociology, presented her method for dealing with the madness induced by finals: “I try to make a set schedule on times I plan on studying. I watch TV, eat, or just relax:that’s just a basic quote, I’m in the middle of stressing for finals!” Cohen exclaimed.
From the looks of it, it seems like we all need a prescription to Adderall just to focus during times of stress. But despite these peculiar ways we all have of coping with stress we eventually sit down, start the studying, and successfully get through stressful weeks with or without study drugs and caffeine. And as graduation creeps close, I realize that life will always present stress. It is how we deal with a busy life while still taking the time to smell the roses that matters.
“There are thousands of causes for stress, and one antidote to stress is self-expression”, my boyfriend told me. “That’s what happens to me everyday,” he said. “My thoughts get off my chest, down my sleeves, and onto my pad”. I’d have to agree: Choose an outlet to alleviate stress, take one thing at a time, and get tasks accomplished. Keep your chin up Isla Vista, our long winter break is just around the corner.