Lowering stress is key to success

Stressed students are at a higher risk for developing depression and anxiety disorders, psychologist says

MHAC Co-Chairs Courtney Brennan, ArtSci ’09 and James Hayward, ArtSci ’10, say students should seek help when they’re feeling too stressed to cope.
MHAC Co-Chairs Courtney Brennan, ArtSci ’09 and James Hayward, ArtSci ’10, say students should seek help when they’re feeling too stressed to cope.

As students frantically race against time to study for their exams, tensions and stress levels reach a new high.

According to Dr. Kate Harkness, a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the department of psychology at Queen’s, our bodies are not well adapted to the relentless levels of stress that we experience during exams.

“Our bodies were set up to deal with the acute stress of escaping from a sabre-tooth tiger,” she said. “That’s how we developed millions and millions of years ago. So the body can deal with the one-time acute stressors very, very well.” Harkness said because times have changed our focus is no longer on facing dangerous animals but on the modern stresses of today’s society.

“Our problem now is that the stress is not of the sabre-tooth tiger variety,” she said. “It’s now having to spend three weeks writing term papers and studying all night for exams while at the same time having relationship problems with our [partner] back home while at the same time not eating and sleeping well that persist for many weeks. It’s the chronic level of stress that has the biggest impact on our health.”

Harkness said these mounting stresses can potentially lead to some serious physical and psychological problems.

“There is a very strong relation between psychological stress and getting sick,” she said. “The immune system becomes seriously compromised when we’re under stress. So we’re likely to get colds, flus, any bug that’s out there.”

Harkness said there are other factors to think about when it comes to stress.

“There is also the emotional impact,” she said. “People who are under a lot of stress are at high risk of developing actual depression and anxiety disorders, or at the very least significant symptoms of depression and anxiety.” The Mental Health Awareness Committee (MHAC) at Queen’s geared towards helping students facing these problems everyday.

MHAC Co-Chair James Hayward, ArtSci ’10, said students should take mental health issues seriously.

“We target issues most prevalent on campus such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse,” he said.

The committee’s aims include educational initiatives such as promoting de-stressing techniques during the exam months through meditation, deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, Hayward said, adding that the committee is there so students can seek help early on, before stress becomes an overwhelming problem.

Hayward’s Co-Chair, Courtney Brennan, ArtSci ’09, said students shouldn’t just ignore their extreme levels of stress.

“Being that stressed out isn’t considered normal,” she said. “There’s a point where it is normal. When it gets past that point, that’s when you should start seeking an intervention. We are trying to educate people as to where that point is.”

An important resource stressed students can take advantage of on campus is the Queen’s Learning Commons (QLC) located on the first floor of Stauffer Library.

According to Linda Williams, a counsellor with the QLC, their program, which typically functions as a drop-in, has been overwhelmed by students seeking advice about stress.

“Early on, people are wondering about time management,” she said. “In the middle of the term it’s about midterm preparation. At this point in the term, a lot of it is about stress.”

Maintaining balance during exam time means students should be scheduling time to sleep, exercise and eat well, in addition to studying, Williams said. In fact, these components will likely increase a student’s efficiency.

“You need to have a mind that is rested and clear in order for you to pack information in there and make good connections,” she said. “Exercise is another really big piece. We weren’t designed to sit in a chair for 10 hours a day. ... Maintaining nutrition is also important.”

Williams said should students maintain a positive outlook and focus on what they can do during this busy exam session, rather than dwell on how intimidating the challenges seem.

“All you can do is control the controllables,” she said. “[Students] have under their control their expectations, their own behaviours … how they are going to use their time, where they are going to put their emphasis.”

It’s in you to give

Canadian Blood Services requires potential donors to be between 17 and 71 years of age weighing at least 110lbs, in good health, well rested and nourished before donating.

Donors must wait 56 days between donations. There are also wait times associated with other procedures, including dental cleanings or filling (one day); dental extractions, root canals, other dental surgeries (72 hours, given full recovery); piercing or tattooing (six months).

After donating blood, donors may experience fatigue and/or bruising of the area where the blood was taken. It is recommended that donors abstain from strenuous physical activity for six to eight hours after donating.

Blood Services’ permanent clinic is located at 797 Princess St., Suite 100. It’s open Tuesday
to Thursday.
Queen’s University Blood Team (QUBT) brings a mobile blood donation clinic to campus regularly. Upcoming clinic dates include:

Friday, Dec. 5, 2008
(in Macgillivray-Brown Hall)
Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 (In BioSci)
Friday, Feb. 6, 2009
(In Macgillivray-Brown Hall)
Monday, Mar. 30, 2009 (In BioSci)

For more information on how to donate call 1-888-2-DONATE
(1-888-236-6283) or e-mail the Kingston clinic at

—Monique Mongeon

Source: bloodservices.ca

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