The slump: investigating psychology behind senioritis

Around this time of year, when the leaves and the homework pile up, one sickness in particular targets students relentlessly, leaving them incapable of doing their work or sometimes even caring at all.

It is a condition known around the country as senioritis.

“I would define senioritis as maybe a feeling of unproductivity—maybe you feel like you’ve done all the hard work and you just don’t have the motivation to continue,” said senior Salwa Saba.

Saba is an international politics major who plans to attend grad school after she finishes her time at Belmont.

And although she and her fellow seniors only have one more semester to power through, the amount of work inherent in that can make it feel like an eternity.

“I do feel a little burnt out, just as I’m approaching my last semester,” she said.

While seniors are certainly more susceptible to the ‘sickness,’ an unfortunate reality is that any student can contract something like it.

One such student is sophomore Midya Yarwais, who shared about her experience with early onset senioritis.

“I can say simply from some of the classes, I can just put it off until next year and not worry about it,” she said. “And convocations I’m not worried about how many I have to get because I can just get it later.”

Despite their two-year age difference, Yarwais and Saba shared similar sentiments about their symptoms, using words such as “anxiety,” “exhaustion,” and “confusion” to define their experience.

“I definitely think it affects everyone, not just seniors,” said Yarwais.

Regardless of who it may or may not afflict, senioritis may sound like a joke at first. But talk to a student or spend just a little time on the Internet, and it becomes clear that senioritis is real, and, in some cases, can carry serious implications.

National organizations have written story after story about the so-called disease and the threat it poses to senior’s academic careers.

According to a story by NBC News, colleges like Stanford University have been known to reject high school students who had previously been accepted because of a Yuletide drop in GPA. And while less coverage has been devoted to the effects of senioritis on college seniors bound for grad school, it is ostensible that the same rejection risk would present itself.

In another story by U.S. News & World Report, the publication offered five tips on how to “battle college senioritis,” including staying organized, exercising self-care and visiting the university’s career center. Incidentally, the article, published in 2011, included a quote from a Belmont University student.

Since the fanciful-sounding condition carries with it all-too-real ramifications, counselors are sometimes enlisted to assist students when they fall prey to it.

Suzanne Rhinehardt, a therapist with the office of counseling services, brought her own definition of the condition to the table.

“Senioritis is an emotional and psychological state surrounding transitions occurring at the end of critical academic points,” she said.

She and her colleague, Adrien Johnson, said that the condition is rooted in a nearly universal fear of change, and can be used as a coping mechanism whenever school threatens to become too overwhelming.

“When you’re so stressed out or anxious, you think, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ That’s coping,” said Johnson. “When it starts to undo the progress you’ve made, it can do some damage.”

In addition to being a response to mountains of work, senioritis also represents a “naturally occurring way to disengage,” said Rhinehardt. Some seniors recognize that they’re about to leave community in which they’ve lived for the past four years, and this can result in them mentally checking out, she said.

If or when students ever reach that point, when the disengagement and the stress threaten to overwhelm, the two therapists offered some tips on how to stay healthy and productive.

Rhinehardt recommended self-care and balance as two things to focus on when dealing with all the stresses of senior year.

“I really believe it’s important,” she said. “It may be really helpful to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to allow myself to binge watch today, whatever I want on Netflix, but then it’s done.’”

Although the two weeks preceding the end of the semester can seem like they last for an eternity, Johnson encouraged students to keep perspective and not let this ‘disease’ have the “final” word.

“Remember your personal goals and overall mission,” he said. “Life and you are constantly evolving, and you don’t have to have it all figured out.”

Photo illustration by Grayson Hester.

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