- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - People can deal with stress in unhealthy ways, finding outlets in overeating, smoking or drug abuse.

The bad news is that stress-induced behaviors are often ingrained at a young age, making it difficult for parents who want to redirect their children’s behavior to healthy ways of resolving stress.

The good news? Members of the community are finding ways to evaluate and counter that tendency before it becomes an overwhelming issue.

Nursing and medical school students in the Rural Community Health-Based Projects course at East Tennessee State University took their expertise to middle schools in Unicoi and Carter counties Oct. 20, teaching students at Happy Valley Middle School and Unicoi County Middle School how to combat stress in healthy ways.

“So many times adolescents are trapped,” said Tony DeLucia, a professor at the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine, who helped organize the event. “They’re stressed and they adopt an inappropriate behavior … something maybe they’ve even seen their parents do.”

Faculty and students partnered with administrators at the middle schools, setting up health fairs where middle school students visited stations dedicated to different stress-related activities.

At one station, students were asked to navigate a series of orange cones and drive a small remote-controlled car while wearing drunk goggles, special lenses that simulate drunken conditions by distorting the image of the viewer.

The nursing and medical students also taught the middle school students about aromatherapy, relationships, nutrition and body image, providing them with a multi-faceted understanding of how they can respond and adapt to stress.

DeLucia said a needs-based assessment conducted by the students last semester found that Unicoi and Carter county schools were experiencing very similar issues in their school systems, characteristics that made them ideal candidates for outreach and evaluation.

The middle schoolers participated in a study that will assess how well the participants retain the material over a period of two weeks. The students have already conducted the initial surveys and will participate in the exit surveys sometime in the near future.

The study included questions about the stations the students enjoyed the most, what they do to respond to stress and how they perceive stress in general.

Stephen Humble, a second-year medical student at the Quillen College of Medicine, taught students about nutrition during the health fairs and said a large component of community-based participatory research is not necessarily for the researchers to impose their thoughts on a community.

“A big focus is to work with that community to focus on issues of concern and then work together to address them,” Humble said.

Humble’s group was primarily focused on issues in Carter County, and poor response to stress was a concern that administrators at Happy Valley Middle School were interested in improving.

Humble said his major takeaway from the experience was that the value of preventive medicine cannot be understated, especially in the context of the United States.

“The more education, information you provide to people at a younger age, I believe that can really improve health in the long term,” Humble said. “Many of the problems we see in the United States are preventable illnesses.”

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Information from: Johnson City Press, http://www.johnsoncitypress.com

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