Drop in on a class of NURS 180, Stress and Strategies to Promote Wellbeing, and you might find students creating a colourful mural, listening to music, or learning meditation and breathing techniques. In one session, they even tried laughter yoga.
“I knew that some strategies might not be comfortable for every student,” says Kathy O’Flynn-Magee, a Senior Instructor with the UBC School of Nursing who taught the inaugural section of NURS 180 in Fall 2018. Laughter yoga was definitely not in everyone’s comfort zone, she says. “So I always make sure they know it’s all optional, just an offering.”
NURS 180, Stress and Strategies to Promote Wellbeing, offers a blend of theoretical and experiential learning, all in the name of mitigating stress. Students begin by exploring the sociological, psychological, and physiological theories behind stress, common stressors, and strategies for stress reduction, then move on to putting these strategies into practice in their own lives and evaluating the results.
“It’s a theoretical course with very practical applications,” says O’Flynn-Magee, who created the course with School of Nursing Instructor Ranjit Dhari. “There is a big focus on the strategies.” Ultimately, she believes, the course should reduce stress for those who take it.
Though it is offered by the School of Nursing, the course is open to all students in all years, with no prerequisites.
The idea for NURS 180 came out of a conversation between Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, Director and Professor at the UBC School of Nursing, James Olson, Dean of Applied Sciences, and Pam Ratner, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Enrolment and Academic Facilities.
“It emerged from the real need we’ve seen over the years and the increasing levels of stress that many students have,” recalls Dr. Saewyc. “We wanted to contribute to UBC’s priorities around mental health and wellbeing on campus.”
“Nursing 180 came from the recognition that student health is important at a university, and we want to support our students across campus," adds O'Flynn-Magee.
The course attracted immediate interest, both from instructors eager to teach it and from leadership in the Faculty of Applied Sciences. Before it launched in September, NURS 180 was approved as an official humanities elective for engineering students.
Learning about strategies for coping with stress can also benefit health professions majors such as medical and dental students, occupational therapists, counsellors and psychologists, kinesiologists and social workers, says Dr. Saewyc. Not only will these students be better equipped to mitigate their own stress, they will be able to teach their future patients or clients how to cope with theirs.
Twenty-five students from across campus enrolled in the first section. The second section, which Dhari and O’Flynn-Magee will teach in January 2019, is already full with 50 students and a wait list. O’Flynn-Magee attributes this to School of Nursing marketing strategies as well as word-of-mouth recommendations from the first-term students.
“This is the only class where you can just come and breathe,” one student offers when asked how the course impacted them. “There’s a sense that you can relax here. You don’t have to have worry — everything will be okay.”
“It sends a message that it’s important for you to take care of yourself first,” says another. “Other courses don’t exclude your wellbeing, but it’s easier to forget in those courses that wellbeing is important.”
Another student adds, “It was really good for building community within the classroom. I know everyone’s name, and I can’t say that about other classes.”
O’Flynn-Magee wanted to set her students up to do well. Halfway through the semester, she offered students the opportunity to practice some form of self-care in lieu of attending two classes. They committed to reporting back with photos and words that represented their experiences (and later, the class created a found poem out of the words they collected).
The final assignment also focused on self-care. Drawing upon the literature and their own experiences, students identified stressors in university settings and stressors they might encounter in the future. They then reported on a strategy they’d found effective in reducing stress and explored a strategy they’d learned about but never tried before. O’Flynn-Magee gave them the option of presenting their findings in a creative format or a scholarly report — whichever they found least stressful.
Students have reported experiencing positive results from the strategies they’ve tested out, but to further gauge the effectiveness of the course, a graduate student affiliated with the UBC Wellness Centre will be conducting a formal evaluation through a survey and focus groups.
In the meantime, NURS 180’s first cohort has acquired a new set of strategies and resources to employ in times of stress, at UBC and far beyond.
Do you have a wellbeing example or research project to share?