Laura Ebady

Benjamin Spear, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center staff member, speaks at a stress management workshop hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program on Tuesday afternoon. The workshop aimed to educate students about different ways they can handle their stress.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

It is no secret college students are stressed. The real secret is how to handle this stress. 

In a stress management workshop hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program Tuesday, Dr. Laura Ebady, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center staff psychologist, talked to students and young adults about how to deal with overwhelming stress both on their own and with services offered through UT.

In the 2012 National College Health Assessment Survey taken by the UT Wellness Network, students indicated that stress is their biggest handicap to academic performance. This finding has been reflected in the same survey for several years.

“Clearly, for us, that is a big indicator that students are needing additional help in managing work in addition to other things they are involved with,” Ebady said. “I think college students have stressors that are unique to them in that this is the first time they are living on their own. Especially in a school the size of UT, it can be overwhelming figuring out where you fit in … It’s a whole lot to learn all
at once.” 

Ebady recommended deep breathing to the workshop participants as a way to provide perspective to stressful situations. In addition, stress-management services are provided to all students through the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. These services include a MindBody Lab, a Stress Recess website and counseling.

Dr. Jane Bost, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said students experience more stress in college now than in previous years. University counseling centers are seeing more crises over the last 10 to 15 years than ever before, according to Bost.

“There’s more pressure [now] just to get into college, and then the academic standards have gotten more rigorous,” Bost said. “It seems that it is a harder balance for students to handle and balance all of the demands in their lives.”

With all of these factors in play, some students feel that a certain degree of stress is inevitable. Neurobiology sophomore Taylor Lindgren said she thinks stress is not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think that a healthy amount of stress is an inherent part of college,” Lindgren said. “Things important to you should stress you out — like getting good grades — but not overwhelmingly.”

Bost said it is important to be able to differentiate healthy stress from unhealthy stress.

“One of the things we talk about with stress is it’s not that we want to get rid of it. It’s not a bad thing,” Bost said. “Most of us, without some level of stress, wouldn’t perform well. It’s not a case of getting rid of stress, it’s a case of managing it and trying to keep it at a level to maximize performance.”

Illustration by Albert Lee.

Sleep deprivation, a common problem on UT’s campus, can cause more problems during a test than being legally intoxicated.

In the 2012 National College Health Assessment, which was released earlier this semester, 46 percent of UT students indicated that sleepiness interfered significantly with their daytime activities.

Laura Ebady, Counseling and Mental Health Center psychologist and outreach coordinator, said obtaining less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep can cause an inability to focus in the classroom setting.

“A study by psychologist David Dinges suggest that when students go without sleep their performance on tests was actually worse than students who were legally intoxicated,” Ebady said. “One thing he found was that students consistently overrate their ability to concentrate and to perform academically when they don’t get enough sleep. So a lot of students are in fact impaired but don’t recognize it.”

Alongside reduced cognitive functions, Ebady said sleep deprivation can cause other mental-health issues including anxiety and depression.

“Those are some of the most common concerns that bring students in [to the center],” Ebady said. “Of course when people are sleep deprived, they’re probably not going to be at their best so that could lead to added conflict internally and externally.”

Theatre studies senior Megan Thompson said she does not see sleep as a priority because she feels she loses productivity if she sleeps too much.

“I’m here in college not to sleep but to do well in all of my classes so I try to sleep as much as I can,” Thompson said. “I know it’s good for you, but if it comes between school work and my organizations that I’m in, they come first. School, job, extracurricular [activities], then sleep.”

Susan Hochman, assistant director of University Health Services, said sleep deprivation is a problem on the 40 Acres. Sleep is one of the top two health-related impediments to academic performance, according to Hochman.  

He said there are many physical downsides to the lack of sleep among college students that could cause short and long-term issues. 68 percent of students said often they felt tired, dragged out, or sleepy during the day for more than three days out of the week they were surveyed. 

“Sleep deprivation can really impair the ability for your immune system to function normally and maybe more susceptible to sickness such as the common cold,” Hochman said. “That is something that could keep them out of class. There are relationships between sleep deprivation and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other behavioral components.”

Government sophomore Samayia Sneed said she maintains her energy throughout the day by taking naps.

“Those naps give me the energy I need to do what needs to be done throughout the day,” Sneed said. “After my meetings and work I take a nap in preparation for studying. It’s my little energy booster until I crash at 2 or 3 [in the morning].”

Hochman said her office strongly encourages short naps for college students.

“We encourage short 20 to 30 minute naps,” Hochman said. “There is actually some research that shows short naps can boost your energy levels and your ability to focus and concentrate.”

Hochman said there are countless ways for students improve their sleeping habits and be happier and healthier.

“Students should create an environment where it contributes to good sleep,” Hochman said. “Use your bed for the purpose of sleeping and not for the purpose of studying. Having consistency with sleeping habits and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, strenuous activities and eating three to four hours before bedtime — these are all things that can contribute to poor-quality sleep or not being able to sleep.”

Published on March 6, 2013 as "Students lack sleep". 

Senior biochemistry major Byron Barksdale conducts a yoga demonstration Wednesday afternoon at Stressfest. The annual event aimed to expose students to techniques for effectively managing the stresses of college life.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Final exams and the accompanying stress are fast approaching, but campus organizations are here to help.

Students gathered at West Mall yesterday for the 15th annual StressFest, to discover new and effective ways to relieve stress. Sponsored by the UT Parents’ Association and University Federal Credit Union, StressFest was hosted by the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center and featured organizations from across campus and beyond who exposed students to healthy ways of managing stress, CMHC associate director Dr. Jane Morgan Bost said.

Clinical laboratory science junior Huy Doan sipped on a slush from Jim-Jim’s Italian Water Ice, which handed out free water ice slushes, a healthier alternative to snow cones at the event. Doan said he is stressed about trying to maintain his GPA and trying to succeed in his classes and felt refreshed by the festival.

Business freshman Alexandra Arzuaga visited the CMHC acupuncture station and said she has never done acupuncture before but was excited to try it.

“I’m stressed about finals,” Arzuaga said. “I feel like this event is a great way to get our minds off of school for a bit and to learn new ways to take care of your body when you get stressed.”

Staff psychologist and outreach coordinator Dr. Laura Ebady was this year’s StressFest coordinator and said the event had the biggest turnout she has ever seen with an estimated 2,500 attendees.

“During this time of year, especially before finals, we want to help students discover the different resources on campus for stress relief, provide some on-the-spot stress relievers and give students some useful stress management tips in the coming weeks before finals,” Ebady said.

A wide variety of activities and booths were present in order to appeal to everyone and to cover every type of stress, whether it be financial stress, emotional stress, academic stress or health stress, Ebady said.

Anxiety disorder specialist Diana Damer provided a fun demonstration of cognitive therapy at the fortune telling booth. Cognitive therapy is a version of psychotherapy for depression highlighting the replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones. Students were given a situation and a variety of responses and were asked to choose their most likely response to the situation. If a self-defeating style of thinking was chosen, students were told they can change their fortunes by changing their thoughts.

“Many people think that situations and events cause our emotional stresses, but it’s really our beliefs, thoughts and interpretations that shape our perception of such things,” Damer said. “Positive thinking is not the only solution to self-defeating thoughts. One must learn to be as positive as they can, while still being realistic.”

Damer works with multiple campus groups in CMHC, such as The Courage to Be Imperfect Group and Build Your Social Confidence Group, all of which are free and confidential.

Senior social worker Alicia Garces worked the CMHC multicultural center booth which displayed two large comment boards with the questions “What stresses you out the most as a student of color?” and “What do students of color need to succeed on campus?” Garces said this informal, anonymous environment is an effective way of discovering and gathering such information.

“We are not making assumptions,” Garces said. “We are asking for the thoughts of students and trying to figure out which components on campus are the same and which are different. It’s important to know what the UT campus is providing for minority groups to meet their success.”

Garces said CMHC wants to hear minority group experiences on campus in order to better serve minority groups who attend CMHC.

For an instant stress reliever, students played with therapy dogs from Therapy Pet Pals of Texas, Inc., a volunteer organization based out of Austin.

Volunteer John Nettle brought his Norwich Terrier and said Therapy Pet Pals of Texas brings dogs to nursing homes, hospitals and physical therapy clinics for some small scale stress relief of those present.

“We’re all dog lovers who volunteer our time and pets for a good cause,” Nettle said.