Photo by: Hendro van der Merwe
ANLERIE DE WET
Students are no strangers to stress. We’re used to having to write two tests on one day with an assignment due the next day. This kind of life that consists of deadlines and sleepless nights can allow stress to eat at us and our personal and social lives. But fear not, for our friend the Internet has done it again. Programmers have found a way to connect the Internet with stress management and, therefore, lessening the load.
A study done in April by Cleveland Clinic researchers has found that online platforms called Internet-based stress management (ISM) programs can effectively reduce stress levels for a sustainable period. Dr Rick Nauert, a senior news editor for PsychCentral.com, says that “improving access, enhancing quality and lowering the costs of health care services is a central tenet to health care reform” and that these programs can finally allow the medical field to achieve these goals. Chronic stress has been classified as a major social concern that increases health risks and chronic diseases. Compared to smoking, stress affects your health more negatively when it comes to blood pressure problems, diabetes and obesity.
As reported in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, ISM programs are so effective in stress reduction that it is “comparable to face-to-face stress management”. In this study, researchers used what is known as the Stress Free Now program to evaluate 300 participants (from a chosen company) before, during and after completing an eight-week ISM program. ISM participants received relaxation and meditation exercises including guided imagery via the internet. Participants underwent stress assessments at the beginning and end of the program and received online relaxation practice materials, coping strategies for stressors and daily inspirational topics to help participants continue their meditation and relaxation techniques.
While some participated in the ISM method, others were placed in a controlled group and were also under constant evaluation. In these control groups, the participants received face-to-face stress management programs, which include exercise, massage therapy, acupuncture and diet modifications.
Before the start of the study, all participants’ stress levels were measured using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), which was on average a staggering 23.05 (normal stress levels for men are 12.1 and for women 13.7). The results of both the control groups demonstrated that each participant’s stress score had decreased by at least 4.04 if they meditated once per week, but those who meditated five times per week decreased their stress score by 6.12.
Another study done by the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University in Sweden used the same method as the Cleveland Clinic, but they also used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale along with the PSS. Although this study found improvements in both groups, the self-help ISM program’s improvement was greater. Another difference that was picked up by the researchers of this study was that people are not particularly motivated to continue with the ISM programs.
The 300 participants in the Cleveland Clinic study were ordered by their companies to take part in the study, whereas Uppsala University had voluntary participants. Out of 85 Uppsala volunteers, 26% dropped out of the study. Their report concluded that the “differential dropout rates and compliance need to be monitored in future studies”, but still found a positive result that “the Internet can be used to provide stress management techniques and result in stress relief”.
Dr Madeleine Nolte, head of Tuks Student Support told Perdeby that ISM programs are a “good step forward” for stress management. Nolte believes that Tuks will develop its own ISM program in the near future, but the matter requires a lot of funding and collaboration with the IT Department.
The Wellness Institute of Cleveland Clinic assured ISM programs have been updated according to the results of these studies. Both studies reported they had great success with ISM programs, but that other methods should not be ruled out. Nolte agrees that other methods should still be used because “One size doesn’t fit all. All students have different needs and different levels of stress and should be individually assessed.”
Although this program costs less than traditional methods, it is inaccessible to those without access to the Internet.
For Tuks students, psychological consultation is freely available at Student Support. Knowing that there are more options to control and lessen stress may leave us with one less thing to stress about.