UNLV senior Olivia Williams is preparing to embark on the writing career of her dreams.
As Williams, an English and communications major, prepares for a life as an author and publisher, she takes classes that may pique her interest and offer valuable lessons for her future career.
That’s why she signed up for Stress, Coping, and Resilience: An Approach to Communication, a new course taught this semester by Tara McManus, associate professor of communication studies.
Williams plans to pursue an MFA in creative writing and one day open a publishing house. She knows that to achieve her goals, she will have to go through stressful times and navigate all kinds of relationships.
“When I get to class, I know I’ll come away with a better understanding of how stress is embedded in our daily lives,” said Williams, 22, “but I’m also leaving feeling ready for it.” facing and looking for new sources or new ways of facing, which I think is the key.
Stress is everywhere. It can come to the surface during disagreements with a colleague or persist in the midst of difficulties at home.
“For better or for worse, stress and uncertainty are things that never go away. We are never going to solve them in our lives, so learning to cope, learning to manage them effectively, becomes really necessary to us,” McManus said.
McManus’ research focuses on how humans use information and engage in social support to deal with difficult situations.
“I’m really interested in stress and uncertainty. How do we choose to deal with stress? How do we choose to look to others when dealing with stress, and why do we choose to try to deal with it ourselves? Humans are so diverse and we are so unpredictable. We all do it in different ways and react in different ways.
She educates students on how stress affects hormonal, emotional, and physical responses, as well as why activating resources to respond to the threat of stress—otherwise known as coping—can help. to overcome stressful situations.
Students explore the effectiveness of social support. They fill out digital diaries about their daily experiences of stress and create public communication posts to demonstrate what they have learned. They learn to translate complex ideas into easily understood messages. McManus encourages students to spread these messages to their friends and peers through chat or social media.
“In many ways,” she said, “by simply managing and learning to manage stress effectively, we become better at it.”
A new class at the right time
Although in preparation, the class came at a unique time for students, who may still be dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
College often forces younger students to deal with situations and stressors they haven’t faced before. However, the pandemic has exacerbated those challenges by worsening mental health issues, financial hardship and job loss for some students, McManus said.
“What COVID has done is help me recognize students’ level of stress and the difficulty they were having dealing with it and managing it,” she said. “I started to realize, speaking to my colleagues here at UNLV and other universities, that students in many ways are not aware of all the resources available to them.”
As a result, McManus took a skill-based approach to the new class. Recently, students analyzed a case study, examining how family structure and past experiences can affect stress responses. As the students worked in groups to understand the behavior of the characters in the study, they shared their own experiences and bonded, offering each comfort or advice.
McManus linked the actual examples to the course material.
After analyzing the case study, Maurice Freeman, a student in multidisciplinary studies, commented on the difference between his experience and the responses of his younger classmates.
Last year, Freeman, a senior who returned to UNLV this spring after a long hiatus, spent 10 days in a coma following a medical procedure.
It was a journey to recover from that heartbreaking experience, and throughout that journey he challenged himself to grow academically. He seeks input from his peers, offers advice and talks about his experiences.
“Because I wanted to learn something, the fact that the class was small, it gave me the opportunity to ask questions out loud, to gather information, to ask questions of the instructor,” said said Freeman, 40.
Freeman said so far he’s learned the difference between stress and anxiety, and understood how he deals with stress differently than some of his classmates.
By the end of the semester, Freeman thinks he’ll be able to reflect on the lessons from the course to decide if he can apply them to his personal challenges.
“My thing is: how can I live a little longer? How do you handle these things? He asked. “How do you best manage these things so that you can best adapt to your future in life?”
Williams said she knew when she was stressed, she was overwhelmed.
Identifying this response allows her to engage in healthy coping behaviors, such as taking a break or making a to-do list. If she needs to get away from the task, she reads or listens to music.
Lessons learned can be transposed directly from the classroom into everyday life, she said. She intends to take them with her by telling other people’s stories and making her own.
“Stress is something we will never feel,” Williams said, “and by finding healthy ways to deal with it, we can build our own resilience and reduce the impact stress has on living our best lives. .”