Stress Less

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As university nears the end of first semester, students may find that stress is beginning to play a role in making or breaking mid-year results.

By Judith Aisthorpe

JCU’s Laboratory of Psychiatric Neuroscience is researching  the effects of stress with the aim to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Associate Professor of Pharmacology, Laboratory of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Head Supervisor of the study, Zoltan Sarnyai says he thinks the study will lead the way into more research.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first of its kind in Australia, and therefore it is hard to predict results,” Sarnyai says.

“This said, we would expect to see higher levels of stress hormones in people who report high levels of chronic stress, regardless of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.”

Stressed Out: Are you feeling stressed? Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/blooddrive/8214477155

Stressed Out: Are you feeling stressed?
Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/blooddrive/8214477155

The study will look into factors that cause stress in students and determine if there is a difference between stress levels affecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Racism is believed to be a contributing factor and the study will help researchers understand how it contributes to chronic stress in Indigenous people.

“While racism has many adverse effects on well-being, we know that it also affects health by acting as a chronic stressor,” Sarnyai says.

“So it is fair to say that racism definitely contributes to the existing health gap.”

Postgraduate student and study investigator Maximus Berger says the study focuses on chronic stress as one of two types of stress.

“With this study we are aiming to look at chronic stress and the response to psychosocial stress in students and we are also looking at chronic stress and traumatic life events,” Berger says.

“Acute stress is very helpful because it helps you to increase your awareness and to react to a stressful situation.

“Chronic stress on the other hand really has some side effects.”

Sarnyai says the affects of stress can range from one’s general well-being and happiness to more serious diseases such as heart problems.

“Stress is important because it plays a major role in many aspects of health,” Sarnyai says.

“Chronic stress can cause or aggravate a number of diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, digestive problems, diabetes, delayed wound healing, sleep problems, heart disease and depression.”

The Australian Family Physician a site by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners looks into common ailments in the general public.

The Australian Family Physician also states, “It is now known that stress is a major cause of illness, especially cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and psychiatric disease.”

The research team is calling all JCU university students both Indigenous and non-Indigenous to participate in a 3-hour workshop.

Sarnyai says the workshop is not difficult with students having to do only a few activities for the study

“Participants will be asked to fill out questionnaires, participate in a short interview of about 10 minutes and collect saliva samples at home across three days,” Sarnyai says.

Sarnyai says scientists and psychologists have collaboratively designed the workshop.

“The stress test we are using has been designed by psychologists in Germany and we are using their original protocol,” he says.

People who are stressed can help themselves by taking measures towards relaxation.

“I think when it comes to coping with stress it is important to identify the stressor,” Berger says.

“The thing that actually stresses you and to see if you can change the stressor of if you can change your coping strategies to the stressor.

“You can also ask your friends and family for help and support or you can improve your skills to handle the stressful situation.”

If you would like to participate contact the research team by emailing them on stress.jcu@gmail.com.