Dalhousie counsellor's workshops calm student stresses

Stress reduction sessions open to students at 3 Halifax universities

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Ben Jarrett, second-year Dalhousie political science student, settles into a comfortable chair as he studies. Not all students find it this easy to tackle the stress of schoolwork. (Photo: Jessica Harding)

Ahhhh, stress. While some students accept it as part of their lives, counsellors at Dalhousie University's Counselling Service Centre want to show there are ways to manage it.

Dr. Jennifer Volsky Rushton, counsellor and registered psychiatrist at the centre, runs stress reduction workshops with student employee Jenette White.

The workshops, offered only to Dalhousie, University of King's College and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University students, include:
• Reducing exam anxiety
• Overcoming procrastination
• Sleep relaxation

Volsky Rushton says the workshops' aim isn't to eliminate stress and anxiety, but to help students learn to cope.

Role of meditation

One workshop focuses on using meditation to deal with stress and anxiety.

"It (meditation) is a skill that you can translate into all different areas of your life."

Called mindfulness meditation, this workshop was introduced about five years ago. It has been very popular from the start. Volsky Rushton says students come back because they can feel it working.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being in the moment regardless of life's other stresses. Volsky Rushton says the workshop trains participants to focus on their breathing and only on what is going on now.

Stressful student life

Many people, not just students, could benefit from learning these skills. According to a 2009 Statistics Canada survey, 25 per cent of Canadians of age 15 and older say most of their days are "extremely or quite a bit stressful."

Mick Cote, a fourth-year journalism student at King's, says deadlines for schoolwork are the main source of his stress. He says he feels that "school and work and life happen all at once."

Volsky Rushton says the stress students feel is often not just about school.

"I think, for a lot of students, just trying to balance it all is the overall biggest stress. Trying to have a life while you're a student is challenging."

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta are looking at how meditation may help reduce stress in students. The preliminary results of their study show the more a person practices, the greater their reduction in both the mental and physical effects of stress.

Volsky Rushton says stress reduction is not the only benefit of the meditation workshop.

"It also helps with things like concentration and being able to focus," she says.

"If you can focus on what's right in front of you, your pen in your hand, then you're not thinking about how you're going to fail this exam."

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