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Health & Wellness

Say Good-bye to Stress

Student Health Services launches new prevention program

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On a recent Thursday evening, a group of Warren Towers residents filed into their common room. Snippets of conversation could be heard about the next chemistry exam and whether anyone had begun studying for it. Inevitably, the discussion turned to the topic of sleep—specifically, that most of the women gathered weren’t getting enough of it (their floor, 15A, is a specialty floor, called “women in science” because residents are studying engineering and the sciences). The amount of stress was palpable as the women chatted. But help had arrived in the guise of the new Student Health Services program Stress Buddy.

Created by SHS Student Health Ambassadors (SHAs), a group of undergrads who act as liaisons between SHS and students, the Stress Buddy program launched in January and is available to any BU student or group interested in learning about the effects of stress and how to reduce its impact. The workshop lasts about an hour and covers various tips and techniques for reducing tension and anxiety.

“A full hour?” one of the women assembled asked. “I really need to study for a test tomorrow.”

“Trust me, you’ll want to stay to the end,” student health ambassador Emily Sanchez (SAR’13) replied. “We’re going to do a relaxation exercise that will be perfect before you study.”

The program began a year ago, after SHAs sent a survey to students, asking two questions: “What is your biggest health concern?” and “What is your friends’ biggest health concern?”

The overwhelming answer from the hundreds of students who responded was “stress.” The ambassadors decided that establishing a program based on peer education would be effective in tackling the issue. With the assistance of SHS wellness coordinator Michelle George, they applied for and received a $2,000 grant from the New England College Health Association to help them fund the program.

Boston University Student Health Services Stress Buddy Workshop

The ambassadors teach students how to “soar over stress” (as the Stress Buddy’s motto proclaims) and welcome groups of all sizes. “Any group of people can contact us and request a workshop,” says George. “It can be as large as a sorority or frat, an RA doing something for their floor, or even a group of friends.”

Since the program began, the ambassadors have received 25 workshop requests, including the one that prompted the women in science gathering, which came from their RA. Listening to some of the residents’ comments as the workshop got under way, it seemed to be just what they needed.

“When I get stressed, my hair gets really frizzy and falls out.”

“I only get two hours of sleep a night because of work.”

“I have three exams in one day next week.”

As the residents voiced their concerns, the three student health ambassadors running the workshop—Sanchez, Chin Chu (SAR’13), and Yoal Peguero (SAR’13)—offered some helpful tips, most centered around sleep, nutrition, and the need for more “me” time.

The ambassadors spoke about the importance of maintaining a steady sleep pattern, switching from junk food like Oreos to trail mix or carrots when stress-snacking, and making time to exercise, to take a yoga course, or simply to reflect on the positives in their lives.

“Our society doesn’t value relaxation in a way that’s beneficial,” says George. “People feel guilty if they take a moment to themselves just to breathe or chill out.” She says that much of the time students spend playing Angry Birds or checking Facebook could often be better spent doing nothing.

“I’ve asked students here how much time they spend doing nothing, and they look at me like I’m crazy,” George says. “I try to talk to them about the importance of allowing yourself to be bored and letting your mind think about things you wouldn’t normally think about—it’s an emotional growth process.”

Boston University Student Health Services Stress Buddy Workshop

The ambassadors concluded the workshop for the 15A residents with a meditation exercise involving breathing and visualization techniques.

“Think of your peaceful place—think about where it is and visualize what it looks like,” Chu instructed. “Engage all of your senses, be present in your place, look around you and notice everything that is around your peaceful place.”

With eyes shut and faces blank, the women seemed to visibly lose tension and relax. They breathed deeply while listening to soothing music, releasing their daily pressures with each exhale.

“Imagine all of your stress going away,” Chu intoned in a serene voice.

After a few minutes, the women opened their eyes again, looking as if they had just woken up from a nap. Sanchez explained how beneficial this kind of meditation exercise can be if practiced often, and how important it is to find that relaxing place.

“We often don’t take the time out of our day to appreciate just breathing,” Sanchez said.

Before breaking up, the group was asked to fill out a survey, which gives them a chance to win various prizes, such as an iPad, Red Sox tickets, and massage gift certificates. George suspects that this is a large motivator behind students requesting the workshop.

Whatever the incentives, she believes the program is making a difference. In its first two months, approximately 350 students have enrolled, and George hopes that word will spread and others will sign up.

“Stress turns into a harmful factor when students don’t deal with it effectively, such as through smoking, drinking, promiscuity, or even watching TV,” says George. “If you can get a hold on your stress, you’ll have more energy, everything will be managed better, and things won’t get so out of whack.”

Any BU student or group can contact the Student Health Ambassadors at shambass@bu.edu to request a Stress Buddy workshop. An ambassador will reply within two business days.

Tom Vellner can be reached at tvellner@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Say Good-bye to Stress

  • Anonymous on 03.05.2012 at 12:29 pm

    I do also have to endorse the value of “unplugging” and spending some quality time with your mind. Sometimes a simple walk along the Charles is all you need to clear your head and come to terms with the stress factors in your life (sometimes you will come to realize that you are stressing over nothing). Unplug for an extended period of time, perhaps a weekend, and you’ll be amazed by how much time you really have.

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