Skin Discovery

Stress management and the college student

In addition to the academic and financial demands on college students, there are myriad social and psychological ones. Increasingly, campus are offering wellness workshops in the hope of helping these young adults manage the stress that results from these demands. Despite the ubiquity of workshops, there have been few controlled studies to determine best practices.

Now, findings from a randomized controlled trial of two life skills workshops, led by HMS investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have shown that, compared with workshops that focus on cognitive approaches to stress, programs that focus on yogic breathing improve participants’ ability to cope with stress, as measured by both self-report and heart rate data. Yogic breathing is a meditative practice that involves slow and fast patterns of breathing. 

For their study, the researchers recruited 108 undergraduate and graduate students and sorted them into one of two wellness workshops. One workshop, a four-day 18-hour program, emphasized yogic breathing techniques and social connectedness for the management of stress. Another, created as a control, had a similar design but emphasized cognitive approaches to managing stress and did not include meditative yogic breathing. The researchers collected data from the participants before the workshops, then had participants complete questionnaires after the workshops and at three months after the workshops. The questionnaires were designed to reflect, among other things, participants’ perceived stress levels, sleep quality, social connectedness, and satisfaction with life. Psychological data, including heart rate and respiration levels were also measured.

Students who took part in the workshop that emphasized yogic breathing reported significant decreases in perceived stress levels, sleep disturbances, and other measures of well-being. Both groups showed improvement in heart rate, used as a cardiac measure of stress. In addition, the students who practiced yogic breathing appeared to develop a resilience against anticipatory stress.

Goldstein MR et al., Journal of American College Health, July 2020

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