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During end-of-term crunch time, Furman unites to relieve student stress

Abigail Ethridge ’26 hugs a golden retriever named Denver at the Trone Student Center during Study Day Wellness Activities in April 2023.

Last updated November 28, 2023

By Jerry Salley ’90

As the semester winds down, students risk getting wound up. Facing end-of-term assignments and final exams often brings additional stress – which is not always a bad thing, said Meghan Slining, an associate professor of health sciences.

“A certain amount of stress is what motivates us to study,” said Slining, a certified expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques.

Too much stress, however, can drastically limit your ability to perform when you need to be at your best. Slining pointed to the Yerkes-Dodson law, which shows that an intermediate amount of stress can actually enhance performance, but too much can severely hinder cognitive functions such as attention, memory and problem-solving.

Students take part in a yoga class during the Study Day Wellness Activities in April 2023.

Knowing this, Furman administrators, faculty and student leaders make sure that students have access to a host of well-being resources during peak pressure times.

The Writing Marathon on Nov. 15 in the James B. Duke Library was “a way for students to work on their end-of-year assignments in a calm space,” said Emme Edwards ’24, a psychology and anthropology double major and the president of the Paladin Peer Support student group.

“The room was filled with bean bag chairs and snacks to encourage students to come work together,” Edwards said.

As they will during the next Writing Marathon on Dec. 4, Paladin Peer Support members brought snacks and encouraged their classmates to take an occasional break.

“Now that we are coming up on exams, it feels like we barely have time to take care of our bodies in a way that is necessary to succeed on finals,” said Edwards. “I cannot over-stress the importance of taking breaks, no matter how short they are, while studying to allow your brain and body to breathe and build itself back up.”

On Dec. 5, the last day of classes for Fall 2023, students can take a break in the Trone Student Center and build their own stuffed animal as a “study buddy.” The center also plans to host therapy dogs and provide 10-minute chair massages, said Gwen Hirko, health promotions coordinator for the Office of Student Life.

Student stress amps up at the end of the spring semester, and the university responds accordingly. In April 2023, programs included Yoga by the Lake led by Kelly Frazier, a lecturer of health sciences, and a mindfulness session led by Slining.

Furman has also demonstrated a year-round institutional commitment to students’ mental resilience, said Slining, including the innovative counseling services at the Trone Center for Mental Fitness. A $10 million gift from David ’77 and June Trone funded the center’s renovation and expansion of mental health care for students, adapting to their needs throughout the year, said Allyson Brathwaite-Gardner, the center’s associate director.

“At the end of every semester, we conclude regularly scheduled appointments and open the center for a two-week same-day clinic that runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays,” she said. “The purpose of the clinic is to offer the widest possible access to students who are experiencing distress – perhaps related to wrapping up their academic obligations, personal stressors – or those who have been putting off a counseling appointment all semester.”

The walk-in clinic runs this year from Nov. 29 to Dec. 13, the last day of exams. In off hours, Furman makes mental health care available through the online TAO Tools self-help platform and other support services, including a support hotline (864-294-3031, #3).

Students are also introduced to mental fitness in the Pathways Program, and stress management became an official part of the university’s curriculum last year with the introduction of Mindfulness for Stress Reduction and Wellness, in 2022.

Slining and Scott Murr, an associate professor of health sciences, launched the class as a general education requirement option. Students learn the benefits of meditation, yoga and other mindful activities, said Slining, who has also helped lead free sessions in the Koru mindfulness program.

“We’re acknowledging that students are whole human beings,” she said. “While our classrooms are known to be a challenging setting, we have all these supports around students. I think Furman does a really nice job.”

 

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