RX for Stress!||
By Jane Morgan Bost, Ph.D.
The University of Texas At Austin
center isn’t being faced with increasing student demand and
limited resources? In an effort to better meet the needs for clinical and
outreach services while more efficiently using staff resources, the idea for a
highly interactive website was conceived about five years ago at The University
of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center and was brought to final fruition
in the fall, 2009.
The topic we chose for such a website
was stress management---by far our most commonly requested outreach workshop and
an issue that clinicians endorsed as being intertwined with most student
counseling concerns. Our research revealed that there were few if any existing
websites which were tailored for college students and also met our criteria for
high levels of interactivity around this topic.
Once our focus was decided, we developed
an outline of the site which was folded into a program proposal for our center
director who subsequently approved our idea and budget. We named the site
“Stress Recess” to create a playful, positive invitation to our student
audience. Fortunately, we had a staff social worker, Allen Lambert, with
previous filmmaking experience. Allen played a key role in the development of
the site material and the actual production scripting, videotaping, editing and
sound effects. We also contracted with our university ITS department to create
the animation and actual site programming.
The site was developed using the
scientist practitioner model, incorporating the Prochaska and DiClemente stages
of change model and other research about stress, including cognitive behavioral
approaches to stress management. Students enter the website either through the
counseling center website
http://cmhc.utexas.edu/ or directly through
http://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/index.html. The homepage is complete
with an airplane that flies across the screen with a “Need Refreshment?” banner
across a beach scene filled with fun clickable objects related to stress. On
the left sidebar, students can click on basic questions about stress and the
website for immediate brief answers. These sidebar questions include: “Why do I
feel this way?”, “What can I do right now that will help?”, “What can I do
differently in the future?”, “I need to talk to someone right now”, “What’s
new?” and “Links to more information”.
At the top of the page, students can
choose to either follow a guided program, based on a stages of change quiz or
explore the website on their own. A predominant theme and icon that is repeated
throughout the website is “think small”, i.e., stressing the importance of
taking realistic “baby steps” in the change process. FAQ’s are also
distributed throughout the website sections, too. In addition, throughout most
sections there are brief sections with concise relevant information/text.
Finally, frequent opportunities are provided for students to give feedback
about the website. Their feedback is sent to a counseling center staff person;
several positive changes have already been made to the website based on feedback
The website is divided into 3 levels:
beginner, intermediate and advanced. The beginner level is geared towards
students who may not have a clear understanding about stress and how it impacts
their lives. These students are beginning their journey towards a more
balanced, healthy way of life. The intermediate level is designed for students
who already have this initial understanding and want to refine how they’re
handling stress and/or learn new ways, i.e., “fine tuning” their stress
management skills. The advanced level provides more links to students for other
resources on campus as well as bibliotherapy references.
The following is a brief description of
each of the modules in the three levels:
- What is Stress? A
definition and description of stress and eustress; symptoms of stress.
- What do you eat? A
discussion of what foods affect stress as well as other things that we
expose ourselves to that affect stress, e.g., people we associate with,
media and activities.
- Fight or Flight:
1) An animated movie that describes the fight or flight response,
including the physiological mechanisms, and how this can manifest in a
student’s world 2) A video game designed to help students
build on their physiological understanding and provide practice with
manipulating the body’s “machinery” in order to cope with stress in a
- Stress’ Effects on the
Body: 1) 2 graphic student images that students can “roll
over” the body parts to find out about stress at those places 2) A
2-minute “body scan” with a built-in timer and graphic body that
students can “color in” their stress before and after thinking stressful
- Perfectionism: 1)
An animated movie describing the vicious cycle of perfectionism 2) An
animated movie describing the cycle of healthy striving 3) A puzzle
exercise that illustrates the difference between realistic goals and
- Stress Cycles: 1)
An animated movie describing the negative stress cycle 2) an
animated movie describing the positive stress cycle and 3) pdf
worksheets for the negative and positive stress cycles to identify
unhealthy patterns and practice new ones.
- Training: Cognitive
Distortions: 1) A scenario-based quiz to practice identifying
types of cognitive distortions with a 2-minute buzzer to solicit
- The Anxiety Spiral:
A video movie game that prompts students to choose various
options to interrupt anxious thinking. The objective is to help students
realize that it is better to stop the anxiety spiral before it grows.
- Priority Pie: 1)
A clickable “pie” for 4 stereotypical students (athlete, over achiever,
party animal and studious) shows how these students might spend their
time in 9 categories over a typical 24 hour period. 2) A downloadable
priority pie chart that students can use to track their own time use to
help them prioritize their resources.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: A video demonstration.
- Training: Progressive
Muscle Relaxation: A video demonstration.
- Training: Yoga: A 1.5
hour video demonstration of basic yoga techniques.
In summary, the University of Texas at
Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center hopes that Stress Recess will not
only be of great value to our students but that other universities will also
find it helpful and link to it from their counseling center websites. Questions
about this website should be directed to Dr. Jane Morgan Bost, Associate
Director, via email.