This semester’s first Student Health Advisory Board (SHAB) meeting on Thursday, Oct. 3 shone a light on stress, its effect on overall wellbeing and the different resources available to help students manage their stress.
During stressful and difficult times, some students often resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, according to Christa Brahler, instructor and director of advisement resources.
“People sometimes turn to negative behavioral coping strategies like alcohol or drug use, or disordered eating,” Brahler said. “If you notice any of these changes in a friend, a resident or yourself, that’s usually indication that there is some kind of stressful trigger.”
Brahler added that there are certain behaviors students should pay attention to, both in those around them and in themselves. In addition to alcohol or drug use and disordered eating behaviors, she urged students to watch out for irritability, physical exhaustion and social isolation.
According to Emily McClaine, student success coach, students sometimes resort to medical withdrawal because the stress of balancing their classes, work and personal lives becomes too unbearable.
“Success coaches do exit interviews with students who decide to withdraw,” McClaine said, “and students often leave campus because of stress involving personal, social and academic situations. They spiral and they get so far behind or so overwhelmed that it becomes unrealistic for them to maintain their course load.”
McClaine said when she asks students about the physical symptoms they experience when they’re under stress, she often hears complaints of stomach pain, shoulder cramping and lower back pain.
“Your body is in a heightened kind of state when you’re stressed,” Vought said. “This stress and chaos may seem normal to you as a college student, but this is not a normal state for your body to be in. If your body continues in this heightened state, you’ll eventually reach physical exhaustion.”
McClaine said people respond to stress with a positive or negative behavior or thought. She encouraged everyone to take stock of their stressors, be reflective and identify what you can control and how you can grow.
“In one on one sessions with success coaches, we help you make sense of what behaviors and thoughts would be more positive,” McClaine said. “It’s individualized and different for everyone. Looking inwardly and reflecting and figuring out what fuels you is most important when you’re facing a stressful situations.”
Vought said students should focus on staying healthy when undergoing stressful situations. Exercise, nutrition and sleep are all important when prioritizing health, but she also urged everyone to get their flu shots.
“Stress reduces your immune function,” Vought said, “but getting sick with the flu will also cause stress in your life.”
Joyan Urda, co-coordinator of the Exercise is Medicine program, highly encouraged getting up and being active, no matter how you do it. She further explained the program, saying it’s a way to help you develop healthier habits, especially when it comes to regular exercise and nutrition.
“We have students, your peers, who can actually help you set and reach behavioral goals,” Urda said. “The program is six weeks in length because research has proven that it takes that amount of time to make or break a habit and we go through that process with you.”
Sylvia Edwards, intern to the Exercise is Medicine program, added that the highs experienced with drug and alcohol use are similar to the highs experienced with exercise. Hormones like adrenaline and dopamine are released from the brain during physical activity, according to Edwards.
“With stimulating drugs, you might experience increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and flushed face,” Edwards said, “and you get all of the same responses with exercise like aerobics or resistance training.”
Edwards also said being there for someone who may be struggling is just as important and she emphasized that everyone should be aware of the way they approach them.
“Ask them what’s going on and don’t press them or interrogate them if they aren’t comfortable or aren’t ready to talk about what’s affecting them,” Edwards said. “If they do talk to you though, tell them what behaviors you’ve noticed without talking down to them.”
“There is a lot of power in listening, being nonjudgemental and validating somebody’s feelings,” Urda added.
Elizabeth Wigton, assistant director of the office for student support, encouraged everyone to submit a care report if they notice any negative behavior changes in a friend or classmate.
“If you’re concerned about someone, or you see a friend who is struggling with anything that is causing increased stress, put a care report in,” Wigton said. “Care reports allow me to reach out to a student and direct them to the most appropriate resources that are best for them and their situation.”
She said all care reports are submitted anonymously and that the form is easily accessible on the MySRU portal and the SRU website. She added that professors, staff and community assistants can help anyone find and submit a care report.