The closing weeks of the semester and the holiday season often prove a stressful time for students, faculty, and staff alike. One key to better managing these stressful times, according to the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) adopted by Cook Counseling Center, is giving more attention to the moment you’re in, right now.

“Making contact with the present moment is good for our stress response,” said Erica Coates, assistant director for campus partnership initiatives with the center. “Our nervous system is responsible for our stress response, so using fidgets, stress balls, or other sensory tools to move our senses away from anxiety or tension about the past or future and back to the present moment can be deeply regulating.”

Find resilience through the senses

“CRM brings an awareness of all the ways we as humans are already working to regulate the stress responses our bodies activate. Those responses can take us to our high zone, where we feel a pressured sensation,” said Coates. At the top of that range, panic or anger can lead toward fight or flight neurological responses.

“When our body and stress responses drop to our low zone, we may struggle to get started on things, feel voiceless, or pull away from tasks and rely on others to solve our problems,” said Coates. These responses are sometimes called freeze or friend.

“All of us have this range, and this range is normal,” she said. “We are going to be bumped out of our resilient flow zone – maybe multiple times a day if we have many demands or especially active nervous system responses.”

The potential of the Community Resiliency Model is that along with bringing attention to bodily experiences of stress, it deepens our connection to the feeling of the absence of stress.

“Paying more attention to that sensation of ease supports staying between the high and low zones, in the more resilient flow zone," Coates said. “We can move ahead and be more open, receptive, and curious about tasks, challenges, and people.” 

The model builds skills to find and broaden our flow zone and to access it more easily, even during more stressful times.

“We're able to show up as our best self," said Coates. “That doesn't mean that those big emotions aren’t important. We're just trying to learn to have those emotions and still be able to carry on with responsibilities.”

The neuroscience behind the model observes that our nervous system is continually working to regulate itself, often just under our conscious awareness.

“But if we can make that more conscious, so that we're intentionally soothing our nervous system, then we can broaden and extend our flow zone,” said Coates. “We can make a physical space of ease that we know and can access through small moments and sensations."

Many of those moments and their sensations are familiar:

  • Stretching 
  • Going outside for fresh air 
  • Sighing 
  • Having a snack or drink 
  • Snuggling a pet

Trainings for staff and students have begun and can be requested for groups through Cook Counseling. Anyone can begin learning more of the basics on the Student Affairs YouTube channel.

Finals Extravaganza offers options to relax

Community Resiliency Model skills will be among the de-stressing tools available at the Finals Extravaganza event Wednesday, Dec. 6, in the McComas Hall lobby from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 “We welcome students to the extravaganza to take off some of the emotional weight that comes with finals week,” said Charlotte Amenkhienan, assistant director with Cook Counseling and director of outreach, prevention, and campus engagement. “We’re helping students give themselves permission to take care of themselves.”

Options to deal with end-of-semester stress, including games, self-care giveaways, snacks, and the Virginia Tech therapy dogs, will be on offer by campus organizations:

  • Cook Counseling Center 
  • Peer Assistants for Learning
  • Hokie Wellness 
  • Schiffert Health Center 
  • Student Success Center 
  • Recreational Sports 
  • Pride Center 
  • Services for Students with Disabilities 
  • Student Nutrition and Dietetics Association

One of the perennially popular activities? Making stress balls.

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