Group offers stress-relieving workshops

by Melissa Downing

The groups listens to a gentle and soothing voice that reminds them to survey their bodies, breathe deeply and feel the sense of vitality.
Each of the ten University students and staff members standing in a circle performs slow, graceful stretching and breathing movements. The group members shut their eyes, stand on one foot, point their toes and rotate their ankles while inhaling and exhaling.
“The body is designed to move,” said yoga instructor Shirley Doyle. “It doesn’t take long before the body responds. After the first five minutes the body takes over because it feels so wonderful. That’s the beauty of yoga.”
The participants in the yoga session are taking part in just one of the many stress-relieving health-awareness activities Boynton Health Service makes available to the University community through the Comfort Zone. Yoga, meditation, massage and qigong — a form of Chinese relaxation — are among the classes offered weekly as free stress management workshops.
University staff member Candace Pilon has attended the yoga workshop several times, and finds it very relaxing. “I feel very peaceful after a session,” she said.
Electrical engineering graduate student Kavita Nair attended her first yoga session unsure of what to expect. “I am not exactly stressed out, but I do need to learn to calm down.”
Following 45 minutes of stretching, breathing, relaxing and striving for a sense of renewed vitality, Nair let out a sigh. “I feel better than before, that’s for sure.”
The stress management workshops within the Comfort Zone are built around promoting better health and fall under the care of Health Architects. This group is made up of 12 University students from a variety of different majors who are committed to increasing the well-being of students and community members.
The group attends two class hours each week to learn about many health-promotion topics and develop their peer educator skills. What they learn, they share through workshops on stress management, physical fitness and nutrition. Often, residence halls, sororities, fraternities and other organizations request workshops.
About 90 percent of the workshop requests call for lessons in stress management. But most of the available workshops are designed with the college student in mind.
A recent survey of University students by Boynton Health Service found the following:
ù 7 percent of college students said they had alcohol or chemical abuse problems;
ù 29.1 percent reported depression;
ù 31.4 percent said they suffered anxiety;
ù 9.8 percent said they suffered from eating disorders;
ù 23.5 percent reported relationship problems.
However, many students included in the survey might not recognize the signs of stress or anxiety problems, or perhaps do not know where to go to learn more.
The members of the Health Architects said they have a solution to the lack of knowledge: the research center.
The room, located in N201 in Boynton, is the Comfort Zone Resource Room. Easily mistaken for an office, the square room houses information for students, faculty and staff. The new computer, magazines, videos and three-ring binders that line the walls focus on one subject: health.
“I don’t think students are very aware of this and we are trying to work on that,” said Maree Hampton, Health Architect coordinator. Students looking for research about health-related issues for academic or personal reasons can use the room.
A computer is a recent addition. A list of bookmarked World Wide Web pages includes links to Fitness Partner, Planet Wellness and Shape Magazine.
The resource room also offers information on biofeedback measurements and tips on how to manage stress effects on the body.
When a person is under stress, body temperature decreases while the heart rate increases. Simply put, biofeedback is information from the body, and it can help manage stress factors.
Learning to cope with stress is important, but the group promotes eliminating stress factors as well.
Finance, exams, relationships and other stressors are common in a student’s life. Knowing how to deal with and eliminate such stress factors is a focus of the resource room.
The nutrition information in the room offers advice such as a list of what foods to eat before an exam.
For example, pasta can relieve tension because the complex carbohydrates helps the brain produce more serotonin, which promotes a calm and peaceful mood.
About two years ago, the Comfort Zone added a massage therapist to help students deal with stress.
While Guy Odishaw sees faculty, students and staff, he estimates 90 percent of his clients go to school. Most of his clients also come in for relaxation during the last few weeks of the quarter.
“I gauge my level of business by the people booking the appointments. They’ll call me and say I’m booked two or three in advance and that’s when I know there’s stress out there,” Odishaw said.
The massage that Odishaw administers serves many purposes. It releases neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin and natural pain killers.
The lymphatic system is the body’s sewage system, and by working with massage and moving the lymphatic fluids, it cleanses the system. And, by working deeper into the tissues where toxins are deposited, it also reduces stress.