The Psychology Behind Senioritis — For Students And Adults
The affliction known as senioritis isn’t just about slacking off — and it isn’t just for high schoolers ready to head off to college.
Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez about what causes us to slack off as a major life project is ending, and how we can handle it better.
On what someone who’s experiencing senioritis might be feeling
“I think there’s a lot of different — some combination of emotions probably varies by individual of what’s going on. So you’ve got, really, fear of the future: You don’t know what’s gonna happen, you’re being pushed from your nest, what you’re used to, and you’re moving into the unknown, and you can be paralyzed by that. Stress really impairs your higher-order thinking, too, making it hard to do schoolwork.
“There can also be panic. Because you just don’t have the self-confidence. Maybe you have a great job ahead waiting for you, but your fear that you can’t carry it out, you don’t have enough experience and you just have lots of misgivings about your ability to handle it.”
On how senioritis can affect adults
“I think it’s just a sign of a major transition occurring. Sometimes you can be afraid, you can have a lack of self-confidence, but other times you might — actually, a lot of seniors probably are anticipating the next life, their next stage of life, and they’re eager to get into it. And it’s really hard to focus on finishing out these, you know, mundane tasks because they’ve lost value. It’s almost like a devil-may-care attitude, you know, about the past, and you just want to get on with life to the good stuff ahead. And I think for adults, that can happen, too. But I think one of the big things that we in the States, I think, have a harder time, is grief. You know, that deep sadness that we’re losing our current nest of support, our familiarity, our relationships, what we love and cherish. Those bonds are now gonna have to go into our heads, be abstract, rather than physically present to us, and I think that’s a lot of what happens in these major transitions.”
On how young people adjust in times of transition
“I think they can be afraid of the future. What helps most people is to talk to your friends about it, your family about it, write about it. Learn to breathe deeply — one of my friends told me once that fear is excitement without breath, and I think sometimes we forget to breathe deeply, and these are the times when we really need to remember that and help each other.
“And sometimes you have to say goodbye to childhood. You have to say goodbye to those things you really valued, you really loved, and set up ways — ritual ways, maybe ritualistic ways — to say goodbye. You now, senior classes give gifts to their schools. They have memory fests, together with friends. Those are the kinds of things that will help you settle down those feelings of sadness to express them and to move on.”
On how senioritis can help people protect themselves before going out into the world
“I think these feelings that we have, if you pay attention to them, are signals for taking action in some fashion. And so that sadness can be a sign of how much you value those things, and you can actually then turn your attention to appreciating them with your explicit mind, you know, not just feel it subconsciously.”
On overcoming senioritis
“Well, we usually do snap out of it. I think we process those feelings, whatever they are. We have a little more experience in the new job or the new event of our life that’s taking place. Sometimes, though, we do get stuck if life activities have gotten too narrow, where we only went to work and then we’re tired. We only took care of children and then they left the nest. Then when those things end we are kind of in shock, because we lost everything that we knew how to do. So, we have to kind of keep our balance of our life, put eggs in multiple baskets, and that’s the way to buffer ourselves for these things.”