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There’s a dirty little secret they don’t tell prospective freshmen on campus tours: midterm week? It’s a myth. At Penn, as well as many other universities, there is no “midterm week.” Rather, it’s a nonstop, two-month ordeal that only ends with finals. It’s a marathon, to say the least, and often takes a toll on students’ mental health.

It doesn’t take a trip to Van Pelt’s basement to know that schoolwork is visibly stressful. Trying to keep up with group projects, research papers and hundreds of pages of reading a week is far from an easy endeavor.

As we plow through the hours of work ahead of us, I wish you, my fellow students, good luck as you grapple with sleep deprivation, the lure of prescription medications and hours upon hours holed up in study cubicles during the week just to keep ahead of the game. But I also offer some personal advice, which, while possibly not scientifically proven, is anecdotally confirmable: Get a life.

It seems antithetical: Ignore your work! Take a hike! Pop over to the Gap! Read a magazine! Yet if only to protect their sanity, Penn students need to take personal time when faced with a crunch.

“The best ways [to cope with stress] are the old-fashioned ways: to try and have a balanced life,” said William Alexander, a psychologist and the director of Penn’s Counseling and Psychological Services. “It sounds kind of simplistic, but if you’re a student you know it’s hard to pull off.”

According to the Office of Health Education web site, “chronic stress can cause symptoms such as: trouble sleeping, depressed mood, fatigue, decreased appetite,” none of which are pleasant to deal with. OHE offers one-on-one stress-management sessions — and they seem popular judging from the mostly-full schedule on their web site. And CAPS is also always available for students looking to talk out their problems with a professional. But there are things students can do on their own to cope with an often-overwhelming workload.

Of course I’m not advocating avoiding work altogether or procrastinating until the last minute to write a paper, although I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of both. You need to budget your time well, if only to avoid multiple all-nighters in a row come December. But students do need to take time for themselves during periods of scholastic stress to prevent academic burnout. We need to insert free time into our schedules, especially when it seems we have no room to do so.

As Alexander explained, students should have at least one outlet that’s not work-related. “Even if you go to museums on Saturday afternoons or go to the gym every morning at five,” he said. It needs to be “something that takes your mind away from the most dominant stressor, which is academic,” he added.

So hop on the elliptical — Pottruck is least crowded in the morning, according to staff there. Take a walk down to Rittenhouse, or stay in University City. Watch 20 minutes of television! (My roommate and I have started watching The Vampire Diaries in 20-minute increments. It’s awesome.) Even call up friends living far away and catch up on what they’re doing. They’ll probably be glad for the break, too.

Or follow College senior Lauren Usher’s lead, and do what your parents have always begged you to do: Clean. “When I’m stressed, I try to organize the things I need to do. I make lots of lists,” she said. “I try to clean, because I usually stay in a messy environment, but if I can organize the environment around me, I can organize my mind.”

Whatever it is you do, make sure it’s a regular part of your schedule, but if all else fails, don’t forget: Winter break is less than two months away.

Arielle Kane is a College senior from Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Her e-mail address is

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