Annual de-stress fest activities ease the pressure of exam week
An image of the OUWB student lounge converted into a coffee shop
As part of this year's De-Stress Fest, the OUWB Student Lounge was converted into a coffee house where students had access to coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.

The week of Dec. 5, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine hosted its annual De-Stress Fest, a week of events designed to assist medical students decompress during finals week.

The roster of stress-relief activities available in the student lounge included DIY stress balls, puzzles, rock painting, sheet-masks, and more. Students enjoyed free coffee, muffins, smoothies, infused water, popcorn, and donuts throughout the week.

Josh Cabarrus, M2, enjoyed a student favorite – a free chair massage. He is a fan of the massages, returning after an out-of-this-world experience last year.

“I swear that I left this planet, it was so good,” he said. “I’m looking forward to leaving the planet this year.”

For David Howell, M2, managing stress is all about keeping his eye on the 8-ball— a tradition he has maintained since his first year of medical school.

“I would come in when I was not able to think anymore, and let my brain think about stuff without actually looking at books,” said Howell. “Pool is definitely a lifesaver.”

So, on Dec. 9, the day of his last final, Howell stopped by the student lounge to unwind after all of his exams and win several rounds of pool.

An image of an OUWB student playing pool
Howell plays pool in the Student Lounge, part of the way he decompresses while studying.

“If you don’t have something you’re looking forward to, (exams) can really start to drain you,” he said.

For medical students, encountering stress is inevitable, but Cabarrus said he thinks there are different possible forms stress can manifest in.

“I think as a medical student, stress can be either your best friend or your worst enemy,” said Cabarrus. “When it comes to finals week, there’s a number of things exacerbating your stress, and stress starts to turn into your worst enemy.”

Meaghan Race, M2, said she finds De-Stress Fest to be an important reminder to take a break.

“I think as medical students, we don’t do a great job of managing our stress sometimes and making time for ourselves,” she said. “So having a de-stress week implemented at the school has been really helpful for mitigating stress during finals.”

Not unlike preparing for the final hit on the cue ball, managing the end of the semester stress is about ensuring the proper line-up.

The science behind stress relief

“When we are in a state of high alert or stress for a long period of time, and our adrenaline is going up, the sympathetic nervous system gets activated,” said Janae Kinn, OUWB medical student mental health counselor. “We basically go into a fight, flight, or freeze response.”

When that happens, Kinn said, it becomes difficult to think rationally, and that is when Kinn finds students coming into her office the most.

To help alleviate stress, the parasympathetic nervous system needs to be activated.

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“We can activate the parasympathetic nervous system in a lot of ways,” said Kinn. “Some of the activities we’ve done in the past have been things where you have to put your phone down and use your hands. So we’ve had a slime-making station, which I really love because you’re engaging with all of your senses.”

“Not only does that help distract you from what’s happening in school, but you have to be engaged,” she said. “It does take a lot of your senses, and I think that helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system.”

One of the perks of De-Stress Fest activities, Kinn said, is that the activities don’t take much time — many of the stress-relieving activities allowed students to take a short break or grab items and go to allow them to manage their time during finals week the way that suited them.

Another benefit of the activities, she said, is that they are also things that students can do on their own. If the activities work for them, they can be implemented throughout the semester as a preventative measure.

“A lot of these things are things that students can do when they’re not experiencing this high of a level of stress to prevent reaching as high of a level of stress,” said Kinn.

“We all know that medical school is stressful, so the goal isn’t to not be stressed,” said Kinn. “The goal is to be able to manage stress.”

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