Mid-term stress? Experts tout semisweet remedy


student studying for exams

March 15, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Feeling stressed about coursework and exams? Suffering from senioritis? Is the pressure making you sick?

If you're looking for ways to calm your mind (and body) as Slippery Rock University begins the second half of spring semester March 17, some experts recommend the Willy Wonka approach to self-medication - dark chocolate ¬- as well as listening to classical music or "screaming at the top of your lungs" to let off steam.

As the University begins its frenetic march to Commencement, students can feel the pressure as they power up for research presentations, thesis papers, final exams, graduation and job searches.

Examtime.com says dark chocolate is the new anti-anxiety drug.

"Believe it or not, this is 100 percent true," examtime.com says. "Eating dark chocolate, which is more than 70 percent cocoa, fights the stress hormone cortisol and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. Plus, chocolate releases endorphins, which act as a natural stress fighter."

According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, eating an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduces levels of stress hormones. The cocoa and antioxidants produce a calming effect and, according to the study, may reduce risk factors for heart disease.

Calmclinic.com calls dark chocolate a "natural anxiety treatment" for several reasons. It said low serotonin, a neurotransmitter that influences mood, is one of the causes of anxiety. Dark chocolate has an amino acid that works as a precursor to serotonin production.

Dark chocolate includes the ingredient theobromine, which has been shown to have a positive, mood elevating effect. Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which may be one of the few nutrients that counters anxiety, the website said.

Calmclinic.com said students should choose the finest, most natural dark chocolate and eat small amounts. Experts caution that chocolate is not a cure for clinical anxiety. It may take a bite out of stress, but people should not swap their meds for chocolate chips.

Your Health Magazine said more research is needed before people overindulge in dark chocolate as a mood treatment. It pointed out that dark chocolate, like any chocolate, has health risks. They include diabetes, cavities and weight gain. Chocolate includes lots of butter, sugar and cream, which can be diet breakers. The rule, as always, is moderation.

Debbie Shannon, a '77 SRU graduate and owner of Shannon's Kandy Kitchen in Slippery Rock said dark chocolate has antioxidants that also have been shown to fight cancer. Asked whether dark chocolate will cure a person of all that ails him or her, she laughed and said, "We've been saying that for years."

Examtime.com said a lesser-known stress buster is music, especially classical. Listening to music could create a productive environment that could help you study longer and more effectively. The website recommends classical music to "boost your brain power."

Sometimes a stressed out student just needs to talk to someone, but other times a primal-scream may help.

"Shout it from the rooftop or scream from the top of your lungs," examtime.com said. "Figure out what you're feeling and then let it out."

Another antidote: Petting an animal. SRU recreational therapy professors say the bond between humans and animals can be a great source of solace and relief from stress. They routinely offer animal-assisted therapy sessions during finals.

Betsy Kemeny, assistant professor of recreational therapy, offered more conventional approaches to beating stress. She recommends a walk, yoga, meditation or mindfulness and "five deep cleansing breaths," which means focusing on your heart as you breath in- and exhale deeply.

Many of these strategies, and numerous health screenings, will be explained during SRU's Wellness Expo from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 18, in the Aebersold Student Recreation Center.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu