Students tackle stress in Jan Term course

January 29, 2008

BethAnn Turner ’08 admitted she was a little nervous as licensed acupuncturist Beth Grubb showed how she planned to stick five long hair-thin needles into specific points in students’ ears. The sterilized stainless steel needles are inserted just below the skin’s surface in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing ability.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it,” Turner said. “But it was an opportunity that doesn’t come around a lot, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Turner is one of about 20 students in the Jan Term course “Coping with Stress,” taught by Senior Psychology Lecturer Paul Mazeroff. The class practices relaxation techniques including hypnosis, deep muscle relaxation, breathing, meditation, exercise, nutrition, guided imagery and assertiveness training.

“If you start implementing a health regimen now, you can reap the benefits all your life,” says Mazeroff, who had to turn away 15 people this year due to the increasing popularity of the course. He says students tend to have a lot of stress in their lives, which shows up in psychological and physical form; in sleep problems, headaches, or back and neck tension. He also notes that athletes find his course helpful because he teaches visualization, a technique frequently used to improve performance.

Mazeroff has led the class for four years. He has been treating people with stress-related problems for the last 30 years, and taught undergraduate and graduate level courses related to stress management.

“I’ve been in the stress business all my life,” he says. Mazeroff let Grubb demonstrate acupuncture on his ears. Afterwards, he told the 20 nervous-looking students “I don’t even feel it.”

Grubb explained that, according to Chinese medicine, stress is an interruption of the life force, or qi (pronounced chee). Qi, which moves through the body like rivers, can be disrupted by poor diet, lack of exercise, drugs, alcohol or trauma.

“You’re going to have stress in your life,” says Grubb, who volunteers her time with McDaniel students. “It’s going to be there, but acupuncture can help you deal with it.”

Turner described the feeling of the needles as “warm and tingly.” Then, she felt like going to sleep. She wasn’t alone. As Grubb moved from student to student, tapping the needles into ears with deft fingers, whispering to each of them to inhale and exhale, it seemed as though a meditative peace descended upon the class. Mazeroff dimmed the lights. Sounds of waves crashing against a shore played as students closed their eyes and leaned back in their chairs. One young man lying on the floor snored lightly.

The course may seem like a dream for any weary college student, but it comes with a lot of work. Students are required to assess their daily stress, write a narrative about their lives and perform a relaxation technique for two weeks. Then, each completes a creative project based on their experience.

Psychology major Kenny McHugh ’09 is practicing yoga for the first time in his life.

“I probably would have never tried it before,” says McHugh.

After 30 minutes, Grubb took the needles out and turned the lights back on. As the group of weary college students opened their eyes, they seemed refreshed.

“It made me feel less tense,” said McHugh of the experience. “I’d be interested in seeing what acupuncture can do for me, long term.”