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USF program helps students beat the blues

A recent study has found that college students, especially freshmen, are more stressed today than they have been in 25 years, but a new counseling course hopes to change that statistic among USF students.

The American Freshman National Norms Fall 2010 survey, which was started in 1985 at the University of California, Los Angeles, collects data annually from more than 200,000 incoming first-year students attending about 300 universities across the country.

According to this year’s findings, only 51.9 percent of students rated their emotional health as “above average,” dropping 3.4 percentage points over the last year and providing the lowest number since the study began.

In addition, 29.1 percent of students surveyed reported feeling frequently overwhelmed with the transition from high school to college, compared to last year’s 27.1 percent.

To help students manage their stress, the USF Counseling Center has introduced the “Beating the Blues” course, a four-week class taught by Phyllis Sirotta Feldman and Swapna Mukherjea.

“Our goal is to help the students,” Mukherjea said. “We started the class because there is a lot of depression among them, and we want to build self-confidence.”

The class meets every Wednesday in February from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Counseling Center Conference Room, located in the Student Services Building.

Because the class uses a “holistic approach,” students do not have to attend every class to reap benefits. Each class provides information on what causes stress and how to deal with it, examples of stressful situations college students might encounter, group discussions and a relaxation tape to ease stress before the class is dismissed.

“In the group session, we are trying to do what students who attend want to get out of it,” Feldman said.

Feldman said students may experience stress when trying to achieve their academic goals, operating with little sleep and attempting to make new friends. The poor economic climate has also put a financial strain on many students, she said, leaving many to worry about how they will be able to get a job, afford school and pay back loans once they graduate.

According to the survey, more than half of the students pooled took out loans to help pay for college.

Mukherjea said that students must first identify which areas in their lives are causing them to feel stressed and then developing a plan to deal with them. Two simple ways of doing this are talking to someone and writing in a stress journal, she said.

A stress journal is a log of things that cause stress, how they make the author feel emotionally and physically and how he or she responds to the situation, she said. After the journal, writers are no longer stressed, they should read their entry and try to figure out how to avoid future situations and how they cope with them.

Mukherjea said all students deal with stress differently. According to the first “Beating the Blues” class lecture, people should avoid unnecessarily stressful situations and people, adapt to stressors they cannot avoid, accept stressful situations that are unavoidable, learn their limit and take time to relax.

“Everyone has stress,” Feldman said. “We all need to learn to cope with it.”