Peer health educators discuss stress management during finals

By Mallory Grossman

With the end of the semester fast approaching, students are likely to feel an increase in… With the end of the semester fast approaching, students are likely to feel an increase in stress overload.

Around finals time, PantherWELL peer health educators, undergraduate students who have an interest in promoting health and wellness to other Pitt students, said they see an increase in the amount of stressed students.

The most common causes for stress — aside from exams — include homework, jobs, money, family, alcohol and drug issues, significant others, sex and safety, PantherWELL peer health educator Kourtney Heichel said in an e-mail. Poor time management skills can also add to pre-existing stresses, she said, because they keep people from accomplishing the maximum number of goals.

The stress that builds up isn’t just frustrating. Stress has been linked to causing emotional, physical and physiological strain, she said.

“As college students, any of these strains can act as barriers as we move towards our future goals,” Heichel said.

Some potential indicators of stress, according to the American Institute of Stress website, include muscle pain, insomnia, headaches, irritability and anxiety.

However, there are multiple ways students can prevent and control stress both on campus.

The University Counseling Center runs the Stress Free Zone, which is located on the ground floor of the William Pitt Union and has regular business hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The Counseling Center holds stress relieving programs such as chair massages, board games, crafts, jewelry making, yoga and breathing and stretching exercise sessions, said Caroline Seaback, an intern at the Counseling Center. There are also seasonal activities, such as St. Patrick’s Day hat decorating and Halloween pumpkin painting.

Seaback, a senior majoring in psychology, said a lot of students take advantage of the Stress Free Zone but that the number depends on the day. When there is bad weather, people like to go in and relax. The main activity that draws students in is the chair massage, Seaback said.

“Ultimately, I think the Counseling Center does help with students’ stress,” Seaback said. “There is a misconception that the activities are juvenile. But the funny thing is that most of the activities don’t require any brain power. It’s just something to keep your mind off the stresses from homework, family and friends.”

Because most students have jam-packed schedules at the end of the semester, Heichel suggested individual stress relievers that students can do on their own time. In addition to improving time management skills, students can use a variety of relaxation methods, Heichel said. Some methods include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing the body muscles from head to toe. The technique can alleviate ailments like headaches and stiff necks.

Additionally, students can manage their stress by getting adequate sleep, eating healthy meals, staying physically active and studying in advance for exams, Heichel said.

Peer health educators said some students resort to negative stress reducers. Cramming for an exam, not getting enough sleep, skipping meals, eating unhealthy food and turning to drugs and alcohol are all ineffective ways of dealing with stress.

The Student Health website offers tips to cope with stress during finals time. Some tips include using a planner to organize test dates and study hours, minimizing interruptions, practicing daily relaxation, getting at least six hours of sleep, thinking positively, getting regular exercise and knowing when to seek help.

The Student Health website also has a 10-question stress assessment so that students can find out how stressed they really are. The questions can help students figure out if their stress level is considered high, moderate or low. Student Health suggests that students with high stress levels schedule an appointment with the Counseling Center or visit the Office of Health Education & Promotion.