Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:58 pm

Stress manageable with support, healthy habits, therapy


Holly Roper, a junior psychology major from Mona, has dealt with a massive amount of stress over the last year. 

An injury to her knee in October of 2016 left her needing physical therapy and made it nearly impossible for her to exercise. In January her brother died unexpectedly. On Sunday, a broken pipe in the apartment she shares with her fiancé, Alex, forced the couple to scramble to pack up their belongings and seek a new residence. Add those events to an already-full course load and working full time has caused a larger-than-normal amount of stress to Roper’s life.

“The semester as a whole started out really badly,” Roper said. “I don’t feel like it’s really picked up. It’s just made it a harder semester overall. My classes get harder, so it’s harder than usual.”

All the stress had made it much more difficult to study, she said. Despite the increased difficulty, she has been able to sustain her grades.

According to a report from the American Psychological Association, stress, along with other mental illnesses, can also negatively impact a student’s ability to learn, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. “Mental and behavioral health problems are also learning problems” the report states.

In a report released in 2014, Pennsylvania State University reported that stress has overtaken depression as the most prevalent mental health issue facing students.

Dylan Matsumori, the recently hired director of health and wellness at Dixie State University, said that while stress can be beneficial, it can also cause a host of problems when it gets too high.

“Stress is a normal thing,” Matsumori said. 

When stress reaches the level where people feel overwhelmed by their problems and cannot function at their normal levels that it becomes an issue, he said.

Research shows that stress is highly productive when it is maintained at certain limits, Matsumori said. As people do activities that are difficult, it actually makes their ability to deal with stress stronger, as long as those activities are within an individual’s psychological and emotional limits. Exceed those limits, and stress can move from being helpful to causing problems.

Younger students can be more prone to problematic stress, in part because they are facing life’s challenges independently and for many, are on their own for the first time in their lives, Matsumori said.

“Particularly in this millennial generation, what we’re finding in the research and we’re finding in vivo in real life is that they’re facing situations that they haven’t had exposure to,” Matsumori said.

Add a variety of social and scholastic pressure — figuring out who you are, where you belong, how to fit in, higher academic standards, and how to be an independent adult — makes a perfect recipe for stress, Matsumori said. How students react to that depends almost entirely on the student, but often the student has had no training on how to deal with stress.

“Most people haven’t taken a class in coping skills,” he said.

Roper uses a variety of different activities to help alleviate the anxiety, she said. Sometimes she will clean her entire house over the course of several hours. Adult coloring books also help her focus on something outside of her daily life.

“Sometimes I use those to relax because I can’t get my mind to shut off, so I color in one of those before I go to bed,” Roper said.

Recently Roper began seeing a therapist, something she said has been very beneficial.

“With the loss of my brother and everything that’s been going on around that, it’s been really helpful to talk to someone who doesn’t actually know me, that’s not biased, who can actually give me professional advice without seeing me in my daily life,” Roper said.

Understanding what it is specifically that is at the root of the stress is the key to alleviating the anxiety, Matsumori said.

“What is the thing that you’re worried about so much, and then, finding ways to relieve that through positive things that are going to help you move forward,” Matsumori said.

Sam Peterson, a senior general studies major from St. George, said most of his stress results from deadlines and attempting to maintain a healthy work-life balance. The key, he said, is trying to achieve academic goals while still being able to have a life outside of DSU.

“The things that stress me the most are deadlines and tests,” Peterson said.

In addition to being a student, he also takes care of an elderly relative, which can prove to be stressful in itself.

“It’s like plate spinning,” Peterson said of trying to balance work, school and life. “You‘ve got to work on this one real quick but then you have to dash over there and work on that one. You’ve got to keep these plates up in the air … it’s like dashing back and forth between these two fairly demanding things in my life.”

Mindfulness meditation, working out at the gym and mountain biking are some of the tools he uses to keep stress down, Peterson said.

“The critical thing though is that mindful meditation, just taking a moment to breathe and kind of center myself and stop my mind from overclocking itself,” Peterson said.

Roper said having a solid support network is also vital. Her boyfriend Alex Cuff, her psychology adviser Craig Demke have helped her during this difficult period in her life. She said having that group of people who can be there for you is one of the most important tools for anyone enduring major stressful life challenges.

“If I need to leave the classroom because whatever we’re talking about is triggering something that’s happened, then I’ve got that support group that’s ‘hey let’s get you out of there, let’s get you out of the building,’” Roper said. “Just having people that understand and are on my side and that can help me when I need it the most.”

The DSU Health and Wellness Center has four part-time therapists on hand to assist students with stress or other psychological issues, Matsumori said, adding that he would like to add more professionals to help more students. He also said he hopes that the location of the new Health and Wellness Center located at 100 S. will make the center more accessible for students.

One of the most important things to assist stressed-out students is learning how to manage anxiety before it becomes too big of a problem.

“The cool thing about dealing with stress is if we can start to teach and outreach and give psycho-education before it becomes too big of a problem, it’s much more manageable,” Matsumori said.