The Behavioral Science Department of York College conducted a four-part stress reduction workshop from March 4 to 27, as part of an ongoing research study for students to learn the right tools used to reduce the effect of stress, regulate emotions, and feel more in control of their lives.
This is the fourth year that the stress-less workshop was offered to students. The two part series of four consecutive meetings per semester were held during club hours with space limited to 10 to 14 students in each series.
Dr. Kathariya Mokrue, assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences is the lead researcher in this study.
Q: What are the objectives of this study?
A: The goal for the study is to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and chronic worrying. So that’s from the scientific standpoint, what that means is stress can be expressed in a number of ways. The goal is to reduce it, catch students who are showing elevated signs of these symptoms and determining if a workshop helps to prevent the escalation of these symptoms down the road.
Q: How is it being conducted? How will the workshops help you to know when students are under stress?
A: The four-part stress reduction workshop is based on two theoretical models that are being used in therapy; cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. These approaches have been found to be effective in a wide range of problems, so people with serious anxiety disorders, depressive disorders have benefitted greatly from cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy.
Q: How did you arrive at the decision to use these two therapies?
A: I developed this four-part intervention drawing from components of these approaches. In my work as a clinical psychologist, I know that these different modules can be very beneficial for a student who might not be as severely affected by various disorders but you know; stress is stress. I drew from approaches that have already been determined to be effective through using randomized clinical trials.
Q: How are the workshops formatted?
A: In the first week, we cover the background of stress. We talk a lot about perceived stress and what we do to magnify the negative effect of stress. And then we introduce three skills every week and we use the group as a format to develop the skills, practice the skills, troubleshoot the skills and in between the week, students are asked to practice some of these skills and when they come back, they talk about what worked and what didn’t work and we troubleshoot before introducing a new skill.
Q: Are the skills combined with any kind of medication or special foods to help reduce stress?
A: There are several skills, probably about 12 concrete modules that are covered. Some of them involve self-care and that means you’re taking better care of yourself, that you’re eating healthier, exercising and sleeping more. Self-Care in stress management is to take good care of yourself. When we are feeling tired or run down, not nourished, we tend to respond to the same stressors much more intensely.
Q: What are the kinds of foods that increase or decrease a person’s stress level?
A: From the standpoint of a psychologist, the food we tend to gravitate towards when we are under a lot of stress tend to be high fat, high sugar content because they are associated with comfort, so typically that brings us temporary comfort. But in the long run we don’t usually feel very good about ourselves once we’ve eaten them. So, ice creams, cakes and fried food and things like that, give us comfort and we usually gravitate towards them.
Q: Can you describe the 10 to 14 participant selection process for each session?
A: The stress less program is appropriate for students who show elevated signs of some of the stress symptoms. So, we do screen to make students fall within a particular range. If they are under, then there’s really no need for the workshop, but if they are over, they need much more intervention. They need more one-on-one or more different forms of intervention because this is really a skills group as opposed to therapy or counselling, so we have to select carefully.
Q: So what were the outcomes of previous studies that were done?
A: We are in our fourth year. We published a study on the pilot year which was the first two years. We deduced from those pilot studies that there is a benefit to reducing depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms and worry. The pattern though is different, depending on what symptoms we are looking at; anxiety symptoms really went down from pre workshop to post workshop. It maintained a similar trajectory to the worry symptoms, depression dipped down very quickly from pre to post workshop and then it just sort of levelled up a little bit. So this year and upcoming semesters, would be to replicate the workshop from the pilot year. This year, we are implementing a more modified version, looking at ways to target each of these symptoms more specifically and selecting the module for specific symptoms.
Q: Finally, what last words do you have regarding managing stress?
A: I think that to make positive changes in your life, you need discipline and you need patience. Because when we are very stressed, we tend to defer to our old habits and old habits, if they are not very effective, they are not going to move you further into feeling more in control of your life. What you say to yourself is very important and sometimes you just need to turn down the volume when your body is reacting to stress its feeling.