Diana Damer

Senior biochemistry major Byron Barksdale conducts a yoga demonstration Wednesday afternoon at Stressfest. The annual event aimed to expose students to techniques for effectively managing the stresses of college life.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Final exams and the accompanying stress are fast approaching, but campus organizations are here to help.

Students gathered at West Mall yesterday for the 15th annual StressFest, to discover new and effective ways to relieve stress. Sponsored by the UT Parents’ Association and University Federal Credit Union, StressFest was hosted by the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center and featured organizations from across campus and beyond who exposed students to healthy ways of managing stress, CMHC associate director Dr. Jane Morgan Bost said.

Clinical laboratory science junior Huy Doan sipped on a slush from Jim-Jim’s Italian Water Ice, which handed out free water ice slushes, a healthier alternative to snow cones at the event. Doan said he is stressed about trying to maintain his GPA and trying to succeed in his classes and felt refreshed by the festival.

Business freshman Alexandra Arzuaga visited the CMHC acupuncture station and said she has never done acupuncture before but was excited to try it.

“I’m stressed about finals,” Arzuaga said. “I feel like this event is a great way to get our minds off of school for a bit and to learn new ways to take care of your body when you get stressed.”

Staff psychologist and outreach coordinator Dr. Laura Ebady was this year’s StressFest coordinator and said the event had the biggest turnout she has ever seen with an estimated 2,500 attendees.

“During this time of year, especially before finals, we want to help students discover the different resources on campus for stress relief, provide some on-the-spot stress relievers and give students some useful stress management tips in the coming weeks before finals,” Ebady said.

A wide variety of activities and booths were present in order to appeal to everyone and to cover every type of stress, whether it be financial stress, emotional stress, academic stress or health stress, Ebady said.

Anxiety disorder specialist Diana Damer provided a fun demonstration of cognitive therapy at the fortune telling booth. Cognitive therapy is a version of psychotherapy for depression highlighting the replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones. Students were given a situation and a variety of responses and were asked to choose their most likely response to the situation. If a self-defeating style of thinking was chosen, students were told they can change their fortunes by changing their thoughts.

“Many people think that situations and events cause our emotional stresses, but it’s really our beliefs, thoughts and interpretations that shape our perception of such things,” Damer said. “Positive thinking is not the only solution to self-defeating thoughts. One must learn to be as positive as they can, while still being realistic.”

Damer works with multiple campus groups in CMHC, such as The Courage to Be Imperfect Group and Build Your Social Confidence Group, all of which are free and confidential.

Senior social worker Alicia Garces worked the CMHC multicultural center booth which displayed two large comment boards with the questions “What stresses you out the most as a student of color?” and “What do students of color need to succeed on campus?” Garces said this informal, anonymous environment is an effective way of discovering and gathering such information.

“We are not making assumptions,” Garces said. “We are asking for the thoughts of students and trying to figure out which components on campus are the same and which are different. It’s important to know what the UT campus is providing for minority groups to meet their success.”

Garces said CMHC wants to hear minority group experiences on campus in order to better serve minority groups who attend CMHC.

For an instant stress reliever, students played with therapy dogs from Therapy Pet Pals of Texas, Inc., a volunteer organization based out of Austin.

Volunteer John Nettle brought his Norwich Terrier and said Therapy Pet Pals of Texas brings dogs to nursing homes, hospitals and physical therapy clinics for some small scale stress relief of those present.

“We’re all dog lovers who volunteer our time and pets for a good cause,” Nettle said.

From cranking up the tunes to loading up on water, UT students are looking for ways to curb test anxiety with finals for summer classes approaching at the end of this week.

Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said the center tends to see an increase in students seeking help with stress and test anxiety as the semester progresses and finals approach.

“A lot of what we see are students trying to build skills to manage stress,” Bost said. “Being at the UT is a great opportunity for students to learn how to better manage their stress before they leave here and don’t have the same access to all these great resources.”

Bost said the center tries to make help accessible by offering interactive videos, animations and quizzes on their website for students to learn to better handle the demands of their academic and professional careers.

“We have a 24-hour telephone counseling line, several workshops and ways students can learn relaxation techniques to use before exams,” she said. “We really put a high priority on helping students gain the skills to manage their stress.”

Diana Damer, a psychologist at the center, said students have been found to have higher test scores when they engage in 10 minutes of expressive writing about their anxiety before an exam.

“One thing we know about anxiety is if left untreated, it gets worse over time,” Damer said. “The things we do to manage it in the short run, like avoiding the cause of stress, end up making it worse in the long run.”

Damer said some students may feel so anxious thinking about an exam that they avoid studying altogether. It is important not to let a past failure or bad grade hinder you from trying to succeed in the future, she said.

“An optimal level of anxiety for any given task can be motivating,” Damer said. “It is unhealthy when students find themselves worrying weeks beforehand, having trouble sleeping or performing well. The idea is we’re not trying to eliminate anxiety but keep it at a healthy level.”

Undeclared sophomore Zachary Congdon said he feels attending a prestigious university can be stressful because it makes students feel pressured to succeed.

“I like to drink about a liter of water and study to something like soft rock, maybe a little piano, to keep myself relaxed,” Congdon said. “On my way to tests I jam to hardcore rap like the Ying Yang Twins to really get me ready to go.”

Ayesha Akbar, journalism and psychology sophomore, said she is trying hard to balance fasting for Ramadan this month with studying for her cumulative final in Arabic on Friday.

“Since I’m studying for a language course, I’ve been trying to write the words down repeatedly until I know them well,” Akbar said. “To relax, I always take a break by watching an episode of my favorite show, ‘Glee.’”