The Stages of a Mid-Semester Breakdown and How to Overcome All That College Dread

Go ahead—eat pizza in bed and binge-watch Netflix instead of writing your dreaded midterm paper; it can only go up from here (right?).

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Go ahead—eat pizza in bed and binge-watch Netflix instead of writing your dreaded midterm paper; it can only go up from here (right?).

The Stages of a Mid-Semester Breakdown and How to Overcome All that College Dread

“I’m Dropping Out”—The Mid-Semester Mantra

Go ahead—eat pizza in bed and binge-watch Netflix instead of writing your dreaded midterm paper; it can only go up from here (right?).

By Ashley Wertz, University of Pittsburgh


It’s that time of the year.

Stores are taking the skeletons and pumpkin spice laundry detergent off the shelves and replacing them with Christmas decorations and peppermint everything. If there’s one thing in this world I don’t need at this time of the semester, it’s a reminder that winter break is a thing and that it is so far away. My attention span shortens with the daylight hours, and I’m left thinking, “Maybe I should just drop out. This bed is too warm.”

If, like many college students, you are familiar with the crushing weight of mid-semester apathy, binge-watching Good Eats is probably on your list of things you’d rather be doing than waking up for an 8am. The initial excitement that comes with the beginning of college has begun to fade into piles of assignments that you’ll probably remember exist only the night before all of them are due.

For those of you lucky bastards out there who have yet to experience the horrors of a mid-semester breakdown, I’ll lay it out for you. And for those of you who recognize these stages all too well, I hope I can provide some advice for making the stress bearable until winter break.

Stage 1: Creeping Lethargy

Semesters (I hope) usually start with the promise of a new beginning. You have a new set of classes, fresh faces to awkwardly break the ice with and a full health bar. But as the semester progresses, there is a point in which everything becomes too overwhelming all at once. I suspect that professors must conspire to put every major project due date during the same week, but maybe that’s just me.

You soon begin to convince yourself that you can read the entirety of “Catcher in the Rye,” write a paper on the ethics of owning a dog and study for an organic chemistry exam all in one night. You deny the fact that you’re not as great at being a student as you were at the start of the school year. The alternative to procrastination is to span your work out over time, but that takes planning and planning takes energy. The small amount of energy you have is devoted to making frozen pizza and not sleeping through your alarm.

The Stages of a Mid-Semester Breakdown and How to Overcome All that College Dread
Image via Reference

Although some may work best under pressure, it’s not always the best for everyone. The most productive way I’ve found to keep myself in check is to write shit down. If you think, “I’ll totally remember this later,” you won’t! You’re lying to yourself! Even if the thing is something so important you can’t imagine you’d forget it, write it down anyway. A blank notebook works best, but napkins and your hand do the trick in a pinch.

Stage 2: A “Major” Waste of Time

After you’ve tried packing your schedule and assignments into one day, you’re starting to feel some resentment. The course work is becoming too much to handle and you just feel pissed off. All the time. The smallest thing can set you off, like accidentally ripping out your earbuds or forgetting that you already finished all of your discount Halloween candy.

You then consider whether or not your major is worth it or if it’s even the right fit for you. Maybe college is just a bust in general. If I’m supposedly doing what I love/what I thought I was good at, why do I feel so angry about it? I just want to take a freakin’ nap without feeling guilty for once.

The best thing to remember during this stage is you’re allowed to have second thoughts. The major you initially picked might not be what you initially expected. Don’t force something that will ultimately lead you to misery. But if you’ve just started, give it some time. There might be a learning curve to get over or a shift in mindset. You’re not wrong for disliking something you had previously had little experience with.

But most importantly, take that nap without remorse!

Stage 3: A Deal with the Devil

At this stage, small accomplishments become monumental. Actually ate breakfast that wasn’t leftover pizza? Score. Woke up before noon? Excellent. Maybe the universe isn’t totally against you after all. But such satisfaction is fleeting, and life comes back to punch you right in the face. What is a groggy, overworked college kid to do? Maybe if you bargain with life it’ll cut you some slack.

“Please, if I can just ace this test I promise I’ll study for the next one.”

“If I turn this crappy paper in on time, I’ll start my final essay a month in advance.”

Perhaps (probably) they are all lies, but how else can one shed the guilt that comes with decreased productivity? Exhaustion is difficult to reason with, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Writing one page of a twenty-page paper is still progress.

The Stages of a Mid-Semester Breakdown and How to Overcome All that College Dread
Image via Whizolosophy

Stage 4: Begrudging Acceptance

The final stage is accepting that this mid-semester breakdown is definitely going to happen again for as long as you’re in college. And even though you’re caffeine-dependent and can hear colors by the end of finals week, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the day, you’re a college student. The work is going to be challenging and sleep is going to be minimal, but the experiences you have and the knowledge you gain are extremely valuable.

It’s easy to lose motivation and fall into a slump where nothing seems to be going right. And honestly it doesn’t help much to think that everyone else is going through the same thing, but at least there’s some solidarity.

The best way to get through to the end is to give yourself a break every once in a while. Winter vacation might be far off, but Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Make sure to talk to your friends and create reasons to look forward to a new day. Bake cookies while listening to Mariah Carey at the beginning of November. Try and make things easier on your future self as well. Do the dishes when you don’t want to and start studying French more often. You’ll thank yourself later.

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