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Stressed students seek services

Kate McClelland | Thursday, October 11, 2007

As midterm week approaches, many students are mentally preparing themselves for all-nighters at the library, coffee breaks at midnight, sleep depravation and heavy stress.

But for some students, the levels of anxiety can become a chronic medical concern.

Last year, 27 percent of students (957 undergraduates in total) who sought counseling at the University Counseling Center were treated for anxiety – one of the main symptoms of chronic stress.

“Students at Notre Dame have extremely high expectations for themselves, which can cause an extraordinary amount of stress,” said Dr. Wendy Settle, a staff psychologist and coordinator for outreach and consultation at the Counseling Center. “I think that unfortunately our environment tends to promote perfectionism and piling on the assignments and the committees along with an attitude of ‘sucking it up.’

“Because Notre Dame students are intelligent, they tend to appear as if they are functioning much longer before they finally fall apart.”

Often, Settle said, students deny the effects of stress by trying to cope using “solutions” such as adopting perfectionist attitudes, over committing their schedules, bingeing and purging, drinking alcohol or caffeine too much or too often, becoming overly angry or irritable or being unassertive.

“I see many students who think they are sailing right along doing fine until the symptoms of anxiety or depression begin to creep up out of the blue,” Settle said. “Notre Dame students are becoming more aware of attending to their own mind-body health, and are showing greater interest in learning how to prevent and manage stress.”

For students dealing with stress-related illnesses, there are now more opportunities than ever to learn effective techniques for dealing with what can feel like overwhelming stress.

The Counseling Center and its staff of psychologists and psychiatrists provide individual and group counseling for students that may be suffering from severe stress symptoms, such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, test anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, sleep disorders, eating disorders and depression.

The Counseling Center works closely with University Health Services (now housed in St. Liam Hall), and often refers students to physicians to rule out physical conditions underlying the stress. Also, the Center sometimes directs students to campus dietitians. In addition, the new “Inner Resources Room” at St. Liam Hall provides a wide variety of biofeedback and sensory equipment that students can use to help reduce the symptoms of stress.

Another popular option, used by 3,525 students last year, is the outreach workshops and programs provided by the Counseling Center. Currently, Settle is conducting a “Relaxation and Mindfulness” class in conjunction with RecSports.

“Students learn methods not only for relaxing the body but also for calming the mind of ruminative thoughts,” she said. “People describe that you feel like you’re melting into the floor, or floating, and your mind becomes clear and focused – it’s really better than taking an afternoon nap.”

The hour-long class helps students achieve this deep relaxation with a variety of muscle relaxation and imagery techniques.

The next session of “Relaxation and Mindfulness” will be on Nov. 28. Students can sign up through RecSports.