Pavlov Strikes Again?

I have been finished with coursework for nearly a year. For two semesters, I have not had to worry about that end of semester crunch that plagues so many graduate and undergraduate students. Yet the crunch, it would seem, is unavoidable. For whatever reason, I find that this point of the semester is characterized by anxiety. I constantly feel as if I’m not getting enough done, like I shouldn’t be taking a break for lunch, like I should be drinking even more coffee than I normally do.

To be sure, the end of semester crunch is more or less a fair wages for many students. Undergraduate and graduate students alike are horrible procrastinators with an uncanny knack for putting off papers until one week before they are due, so it is difficult to feel too bad for them (I speak as one with procrastinating tendencies, by the way).

The way I see it, there are a few explanations for this post-coursework phantom crunch.

  1. Pavlov – I suppose it is perfectly possible that the stress experienced at this point in the semester is simply a learned, conditioned stress. I began college in 1999, and with the exception of one blissful year during which I took a break from school, each semester has ended the same way: papers need to get written, exams need to get taken, and neither of these things will happen on their own. After more than 10 years of experiencing the crunch, does it just become engrained? If this is the case, then hopefully it is also the case that one can become de-conditioned.
  2. Contagion – Perhaps the crunch is communicable? After all, a good number of my colleagues are still in coursework (and are still procrastinators), and thus they continue to experience the crunch in a very real way. Could it be that my taking occasional lunch breaks with these people has exposed me to some sort of condition that one may contract like the flu? If this is the case, then perhaps we should make the library a sort of quarantine for those still in coursework.
  3. Sympathy – I’ve heard of husbands who gain “sympathy weight” when their wives are pregnant, or there are those who will throw up when they see others do the same. Maybe the post-coursework crunch felt by some of us is a sort of subconscious “sympathy stress” that we manifest in order to somehow make others feel like there is someone there who knows what they’re going through?

Whatever the cause, the post-coursework crunch is annoying precisely because it is mysterious.


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