With finals looming, programs help students reduce stress

As anyone who has ever attended college remembers, the month of December can be stressful. Students not only have to deal with final exams, they have the added stress of going home for the semester break after being away from their families for months.

“Many students experience intense feelings during the winter break between semesters,” said Thomas Brounk, Ph.D., associate director and chief of Mental Health Services at WUSTL’s Habif Health and Wellness Center. “It is a time of the year that tends to stimulate feelings associated with past memories and expectations. Many students will return to their families after having been away from home for several months, and many will celebrate holidays.”

This time of year, Brounk said, is often associated with extreme feelings. Those and other extremes often associated with the season, including food, drink, expectations and memories, can create an atmosphere for stress.

Comon stressors for students in December include:

• Lack of money to buy gifts;

• Not feeling as “jolly” as the media tells and shows them they ought to feel;

• Experiencing the holidays differently as they grow older;

• Having to deal with “family dynamics” when they return home;

• Overindulgence in food and alcohol;

• Feeling rushed to get everything done (shopping, studying for finals, baking, etc.);

• Feelings about friends and family not present during celebrations;

• Fear of not celebrating winter break the way they would like to.

With that in mind and with several exams beginning this week, students and health educators have planned events aimed at reducing stress and giving students a break during this busy time.

Student Health Services staff members will present “ZZZZ’s for A’s,” a program on the link between sleep and academic success, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, in the Danforth University Center.

“De-stress Fest,” featuring relaxation stations, chair massages, crafts and games, will be held from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, in the Danforth University Center and from 3-5:30 p.m. that same day in Ursa’s Cafe in the South 40. The events are sponsored by the Student Health Advisory Committee, Congress of the South 40, and the Residential Peer Health Educators.

“It’s smart for students to take advantage of these opportunities to give themselves a break, rejuvenate a little and restore their energy before finals,” said Melissa Ruwitch, assistant director, Student Health Services and director of Health Promotion Services. “Many of them appreciate a snack, a relaxation exercise, a massage or a chance to spend time doing a craft. We make sure they leave with stress management tips and information about our resources.”

Ruwitch said the health effects of stress on the human body are well-documented, and that stress is a significant factor affecting the academic success of WUSTL students and their peers at other colleges and universities.