Shilly-shallying, sleeping in and shouting

Freshmen special 2019


There are no solid national figures, but there is no longer any doubt: many students are at the end of their tether. Also in Maastricht. “Everything has to be done quickly, quickly, quickly. That’s the struggle of our generation.”

It is also a recurring topic of conversation in his circle of friends, says Leonardo Lombardi (21), second-year student at University College, who is bent over a sandwich in the University Library. He is the typical student who only jumps into action at the very last moment. He knows all too well that a paper requires prep work and that it needs to mature in your head. And there is plenty of time for that, because students know well in advance what they have to do. Despite this, the Italian only starts work in the last week. And that brings on a lot of stress.

Then two things can happen, says Lombardi. “Either I start working like a madman and meet the deadline. Or I just give up and don't even start. The fact that I start on things too late, is a character thing.”

It sounds like a cliché, he says, but it is a matter of finding a good balance between study and social life. “I go out a lot, don't sleep enough, become overtired and that is why I am less productive. I would advise newcomers to surround themselves with friends who study regularly. People you can meet up with in the library.”


Frédérique van Galen (20), first-year student of International Business Administration has never managed to stay on top of things during a block. “Each new period I think: now I am going to do it. But then I put things off again. I purposely didn't take a permanent job, so I would have more room to study. I often work at festivals, for a whole weekend. But anyway, it doesn't matter, because I always end up locking myself away in the library at the end of a block. And that means stress.”

Van Galen is of the impression that German students do keep up with the subject matter and are more structured when it comes to studying. And guess what: at a table close by, people are speaking German. The guy in question, who wants to remain anonymous, appears to have been born in Germany but grew up in the Netherlands.

“My German friends are equally stressed, but in a different way. The Dutch leave things to take their own course too much, but Germans constantly work themselves up. They want high grades, are afraid that they won't pass a subject, you name it.”

His own life is “chaotic”, he says. “But in some way or other it always turns out well. Stress is part of studying at a university, certainly with Problem-Based Learning. Friends at other universities who take lectures, are much less busy, they have all the time in the world to chill and booze. On the other hand, you can also see dealing with stress as good training. You will be confronted with that later on when you have a job.”


It's not just exams but student life and all its aspects that produces stress, says the German Lynn Süthoff (22), first-year student of Biomedical Sciences. She has given up her job in the hospital in Aachen, and because of that has more time and energy to study. Even though, a social life also requires time.

Süthoff reckons that many students wrestle with their irregular daily rhythms. “One day getting up early for a tutorial and the next day sleeping off your hangover. That lack of consistency is stressful; you don't feel in control, you’re not on top of your workload. Besides, everything has to be done quickly. That is our generation's struggle. You have to pass all blocks the first time and graduate as fast as possible. That also fosters the unrest.”


Stress has many faces. Housemates can also turn up the pressure, certainly if there is tension. “And there is tension,” says Nina Schröder, master's student at the medical faculty. “About the usual things, day-to-day worries, such as leftover food in the kitchen, hair in the shower, and the bin bags that have not been taken outside. I lived with first-year students for a time, as a master's student. I had to be up early and they partied until deep into the night. We met each other in the kitchen in the mornings. That produced a lot of irritation.”

Then there are the other housemates that can be a true source of stress, says Schröder. “Mice and rats. They trouble many students because they live in old buildings. I live in an old house and recently heard all kinds of rustling. It appeared to be an enormous rat.”

UM psychologist: don't spend hours studying, only three quarters of an hour!

It is unknown just how many UM students suffer from stress, but it is an important reason for seeking help, says UM psychologist Liesbeth Mouha. “We also organise a Stress Management workshop eight times a year; interest in the workshop is high. It is good that we talk about stress more often, but you also see that it is becoming more stigmatised. As if everything always needs to go flawlessly. Stress is a part of it all. It is often a combination of fear of failure, gloominess and adaptation problems. We teach students how to deal with it.”

Planning is of the utmost importance, certainly in cases of delaying behaviour. “Try to determine what part of the day you are most productive, in the mornings, in the evenings, or whenever. So no excuses, that is when it has to happen. Don’t spend hours and hours studying, but limit yourself to about three quarters of an hour. Most people can't focus for longer than that. Then relax for a while before you continue. During the parts of the day when work doesn't go smoothly, do other things, summarise texts or check your e-mails.”

Living together with others can also cause stress. Mouha: “Here it is important that you set your boundaries. That you dare to tell your housemates to clean up their mess, that there is no loud music after ten o'clock, et cetera. If you enter into a dialogue right from the start, you avoid escalation and you can prevent a lot of stress.” 

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Shilly-shallying, sleeping in and shouting