Boynton workshops help students cope with stress

by Mickie Barg

Every Wednesday at noon, dozens of people seeking relaxation head to the lower level of Boynton Health Services.
The first 30 to arrive participate in stretching and breathing exercises guided by a yoga instructor. The free class is one of the many classes and workshops offered at Boynton to help students cope with stress, a common result of the pressures and anxieties of University life.
Nanda Bognar, a teaching graduate assistant in intercultural communications, said students coming to the University — especially those from small towns — suffer from severe stress.
Stress is seen to be a key factor in half of all illnesses affecting circulatory, immune, nervous and digestive systems.
Anytime someone joins a new organization, there is a certain level of culture shock, Bognar said.
“Students must face new rules and bureaucracy that are different from their norm,” she said. “The University is a world of uncertainty and ambiguity, just like going to another culture.”
Stress is necessary in life to increase productivity and physical and emotional well-being, according to Boynton officials. But stress can be overwhelming when there is too much change, which then tends to threaten stability by producing tension and anxiety. Consequently, stress is a fact of life for most students.
University freshmen often leave the comforts of home to move in with strangers in residence halls. They’re forced to make new friends and find their way around a campus filled with unfamiliar buildings, professors and rules.
For history junior Cathy Pflueger, the stress of four courses, a part-time job, and volunteering is sometimes more than she can handle.
“I seriously considered stopping my University education due to stress,” Pflueger said. “Just going to work and not having to continue thinking when I go home is very appealing.”
Dave Golden, Boynton’s community program specialist, said when stress-relief classes are offered, people show up in droves, proving that stress management is an area of interest to students.
“I don’t know if stress is more of a problem than it has been in the past,” Golden said. “But we have more classes and have had to put a limit on class size.”
Stress awareness is enveloping the University population. Two yoga classes have been added since last year, as well as classes in self-massage, stretching and toning.
Rebecca DeHoff, a Boynton yoga instructor, said her class not only releases stress but also adds to a person’s awareness of stress-causing factors and effects of stress.
“Yoga gives people a different focus and a new awareness of how stress affects the body,” she said.
Another way to release internal tension is through hands-on therapy. Three Boynton massage therapists are paid to knead away the resulting aches and pains of daily anxieties.
Workshops focusing on alternative medicines give an introduction to diverse methods of stress reduction and self-care, such as psychic healing and aromatherapy.
“All the courses are geared toward stress relief in some way,” said massage therapist Guy Odishaw. “We are primarily tapping into people’s curiosity on alternative ways to include different methods of relief into their lives.”
Odishaw said Boynton and the University have a wealth of resources to promote serenity.
“(People) are caught up in doing and do not spend enough time just being. Having pure satisfaction in an activity is what we miss,” he said.
He suggests taking a salsa dance class, creating art at The Studio in the St. Paul student center, or taking an alternative medicine workshop.
“All these things encourage people to slow down and have fun, which is a big factor in stress reduction,” Odishaw said.
Yet, Pflueger said that while she had been to a yoga class, the extra time it took actually produced more stress in her life.
For students who are unable to attend a class or are pressed for time, there are other ways to handle tension.
Experts at Boynton suggest taking time to relax and concentrate on breathing or even take a walk. More long-term ways to handle stress may be as simple as keeping expectations realistic and accepting help from friends.
“Anytime a student can take an hour to have fun and minimize the complications of student life, the other 23 hours in the day are better,” Odishaw said.

Mickie Barg welcomes comments at [email protected]