Columbia helps students fight stress

By Katy Nielsen

De-stress seminars, counseling services and free massages are some ways Columbia helps students cope with stress before finals and the holidays.

Jackie Sowinski-Hamlett, director of Counseling Services and a therapist at Columbia, said identifying triggers is the first step to managing stress.

Students had the chance to talk about their end-of-the-semester stressors and triggers at a stress management workshop monitored by Sowinski-Hamlett on Dec. 7 at the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building. Stressors for students included final exams, living up to familial and personal expectations, dealing with difficult professors and other personal dilemmas.

“Right now is just a stressful time of the year because of the holidays and finals,” Sowinski-Hamlett said.

According to Sowinski-Hamlett, people often have high expectations, which can be habit-forming and stress-inducing. Breaking those habits means identifying triggers and finding ways to cope.

Having a good support system, the ability to communicate effectively, setting boundaries, developing relaxation techniques—like a two-minute breathing exercise, mediation and guided imagery—and meeting with a therapist were some suggestions Sowinski-Hamlett said may reduce anxiety.

Columbia offers students 10 counseling appointments every semester, which is part of the health services fee included in full-time student tuition.  Joshua Robinson, sophomore music major who attended the workshop, said meeting with a counselor from time to time has been helpful for him.

“It helps because you get to talk about things you don’t tell everybody,” Robinson said. “They hold onto your secrets.”

Sowinski-Hamlett said when students are in high-stress situations immune systems can be compromised. Students often neglect three basic human needs when they are stressed: sleeping enough, maintaining a good diet and exercising regularly.

“These are areas we actually have a lot of control over,” Sowinski-Hamlett said.

However, many students neglect their bodies when they are stressed out.

When Sowinski-Hamlett asked students at the seminar if any of these things were being done, they burst into laughter. There was a unanimous “no” that followed.

Elizabeth Martin, sophomore film and video major, said she tends to get sick after finals and overeats to deal with stress. Martin said balancing school, work and family life contribute to her anxiety.

“I’m just letting it all attack me at once,” Martin said. “I’m crash-sleeping, I write a big paper and then fall asleep at my desk.”

Two on-site massage specialists from Hired Hands Day Spa, 630 W. Webster Ave., were paid by the college to give students free massages at the Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court, during the event.

“People hold most of their stress in their upper body,” said Whitney-Margeaux Gurley, a clinical massage therapist from Hired Hands.

One student who lined up to get a massage was Dacia Hill, freshman music major. Hill has been feeling pressure because of family issues, finals and the daily commute she makes to classes.

“I’ve been a little stressed out,” Hill said. “I thought it would be nice to take a break and just relax for a little bit.”

According to Mark Brticevich, fitness coordinator at Columbia, students need to take time out for themselves and learn to take deep breaths to calm down.

“The more stressed you become, [the] more shallow your breathing [is],” Brticevich said. “The more stressed you become, the less ability you have to remember things.”

Brticevich and Sowinski-Hamlett said it is important to take care of your body’s physical needs to reduce stress.

“I know students say, ‘Oh I’m busy. I don’t have time,’” Brticevich said. “When you’re busy and stressed is when you need to take time and de-stress.”