Working at a top-tier research university can be a stressful job, but now faculty and staff members at USC have a chance to relieve that stress by visiting the Stress Reduction Lab at the USC Center for Work and Family Life.
The Center for Work and Family Life strives to help faculty and staff members successfully balance their work and personal lives, and the Stress Reduction Lab is their newest method of helping to create that balance.
The Stress Reduction Lab features a program called emWave, which uses a type of biofeedback technology that measures heart rate through a finger or ear clip sensor plugged into a computer. That heart rate measurement gives a sense of how relaxed or stressed a person is.
“It gives feedback on how your body is doing; the real value of it is that you learn specific techniques from what feedback tells you,” said Jason Sackett, employee assistance professional at the Center for Work and Family Life. “It trains you to learn how to better use stress reduction techniques.”
The program itself does not reduce stress but rather gives the user feedback — based on their heart rate — on how to have more effective stress reduction techniques.
A member of the center’s staff tracks the participant’s heart rate through various stress reduction activities, such as deep breathing or meditation, and helps the participant determine which method is most effective.
First-time participants can go to the Stress Reduction Lab for introductory sessions, where an employee will provide tutorials to help the participant get comfortable with the program and find effective stress reduction techniques. After that, users can guide themselves through the program if they feel they have mastered the technique.
Sackett said the program can be used both as a stress reliever and as a preventative measure.
“One of the values of the program is that you don’t have to have stress to benefit, and it can actually be used to prevent stress from oncoming in the first place,” Sackett said.
The idea of a Stress Reduction Lab arose during the summer, when the center initially started working with emWave, Sackett said. The center wanted to develop a proactive program available to anyone looking to improve their stress reduction strategies.
“We wanted to offer something that is more universally accepted,” Sackett said. “People have resistance to going to counseling programs, so we wanted to offer another program in which people don’t have to deal with the resistance.”
The center officially launched the emWave program in November and began advertising it to faculty and staff members this month.
So far, Sackett said he has helped an average of six people a week and other members of the centers staff have also helped staff members.
Some faculty members, though they have not tried the program yet, said it was something they might do.
“I’ve never tried it but it sounds like something I would consider,” said Felipe Martinez, assistant director of Norman Topping Student Aid Fund. “It’s important to be able to achieve work/life balance, so something that will help manage stress is very beneficial.”
Chris Mattson, director of the Structured Curriculum Program, said he thinks using the emWave could be beneficial.
“It seems interesting — anything to help relieve stress is a good thing, especially when it doesn’t cause more stress,” Mattson said.
USC currently operates two emWave programs at the USC University Park Campus, one at the USC Health Sciences Campus and one portable emWave. Sackett said that if the program seems to show improvement among the users — and it has so far — the Center will purchase more emWave programs.
“We had the idea to expand wellness services at USC, and we saw this as just another way to preserve wellness,” Sackett said.