Free workshop aims to reduce stress

February 14, 2012

Kathleen Keogh leads a stressology workshop.Student Robyn Sutton Fernandez practices a breathing exercise.

Do you get a queasy stomach before tests? A stiff neck while writing term papers? Do you ever feel panicky and short of breath because you are having a hard time handling your academic workload?

If so, you are not alone. These are all signs of stress, which, according to HCC counselor Kathleen Keough, is at the top of the list of issues college students routinely face. The good news is a free weekly workshop at HCC promises to teach students stress-reducing strategies.

The workshop, playfully called "Stressology 101," meets every Monday from 11 a.m. to noon in room 318 of the Kittredge Center. It's free, anyone can come, you don't have to sign up in advance and you can come to as many sessions as you like.

"We're hoping to give you some tools, so life doesn't have to be as stressful as it is," Keough said.

This is the fourth semester the workshop has been offered. It's put on by Keough and two counselors from the STRIVE program, Denise Roy and Erica Carlson. When Roy was irst hired at HCC to work in the Office of Students with Disabilities and Deaf Services, she noticed students seemed to be dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety. Keough noticed the same thing, and the Stressology workshop was born.

"Students are juggling a lot with life outside of school and within school," Roy said. "We just thought it was important for students to collect some knowledge and skills and coping strategies so they could help themselves when things are really difficult. We also hope that students learn skills from each other and help each other."

Past sessions have examined the ways college can be stressful and encouraged students to take a stress inventory of their own lives. Future sessions will focus on themes such as learning styles, self-advocacy, procrastination and time management. The Feb. 13th session focused on breathing exercises and visualization techniques.

While students are encouraged to share their personal experiences with stress, Keough explained that it is not group therapy, nor are students expected to take notes.

"This is supposed to be stress-less," Keough said. "It's not a classroom. This is your time to just sit back and relax."

Robyn Sutton Fernandez, 38, returned to college this semester after a 20-year absence. She said she often finds managing all her coursework overwhelming. "It's a lot," she said.

Keough said it was important to distinguish the different kinds of stressors. She said there was "you-stress"-stress we bring on ourselves and "distress"-stress from outside.

"Listen to your body," she said. "It's going to let you know when you've had enough. We need peace. We need enjoyment. I don't care how busy you are. Stress does talk to us, but we don't always listen."

She said panic attacks (rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath) often occur because people are not breathing properly and oxygen is not getting to the brain. She led the class through a series of deep breathing exercise that she said students could practice on their own and employ before classes and exams. "When we're stressed, that's exactly what we have to do, practice breathing," she said.

During a panic attack, she said, refocus is also important. "S.R.B.-stop, refocus, breath."

"How do you feel?" Keough asked after the exercise.

"I feel good now," Fernandez said, "but I want to know I'm going to feel good at 1:30 when I have to go to algebra."

Keough ended the session with a visualization technique designed to help students exert control over what seems to be a chaotic environment.
"So much of this is about being kind to yourself," said Carlson. "So often I see students who are not being kind to themselves."

Stressology 101 is free and meets Mondays from 11 a.m. to noon in Kittredge 318. Anyone with questions can contact Kathleen Keough at (413) 552-2375/ or STRIVE at (413) 552-2505/

Photos: (Left) HCC Counselor Kathleen Keogh leads the weekly stress-reduction workshop. (Right) Student Robyn Sutton Fernandez practices a breathing exercise during the stressology workshop.


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040