Walking through the halls of Mentry, a student hears a soothing melody bouncing off the walls. After hearing the refreshing tunes, the student feels a sense of calm and a release of stress as they go to class. At least, that’s the idea.

For the first time, College of the Canyons students have the opportunity to publicly express their musical inclinations with four pianos donated by art support group Patrons of the Arts. Finding a home in the open walkways surrounding Mentry Hall, the musical instruments were welcomed by the students playing throughout all hours of the day.

Students gathered and listened to a piano player outside Bonelli Hall. Michele Lutes for Cougar News

“The idea is to put them in public spaces so that people can access art and music all over the campus,” COC art gallery director Pamela Lewis said.

Regardless of skill level or genre preference, students brave enough to showcase their talents and passions gather around to communicate through music.

“It’s a great way to relax and also to focus in a different way,” Lewis stated.

For many, music helps to relieve stress that can grow everyday, whether they know it or not.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health discovered the surprising effect music has on human stress response.

Researchers from different universities in the U.S. and across the world concluded that music listening had an impact on the psychobiological stress system. Listening to music prior to and after encountering a stressor predominantly affected the autonomic nervous system in terms of a faster recovery from stress.

The students taking the time to play their tunes on the pianos at COC find themselves using music for the same reasons.

“I think the pianos do help students to relieve stress because it’s just another way to have some fun, especially while you’re waiting for class,” novice piano player and COC student Justin Alegre said. “I don’t really play instruments, but I’ll play what I know just to decompress a little. But I always look to music as an outlet in general, whether it’s to keep me focused on work or to relax.”

The goal for the pianos released onto the COC campus is to help with stress relief for those willing to play. But do the pianos only benefit the performer?

“I think when they’re good, it’s good,” COC student Iliana Plazzio said. “Personally, I enjoy the people playing them in the morning because it kind of wakes me up before my class. Especially when they’re good at playing. It really helps me relax and puts me in a good mood.”

Research completed by Harvard’s Dr. Daniel Goleman and Yale’s Dr. Peter Salovey confirmed COC’s belief that a person’s IQ accounts for less than 25 percent of their ability to succeed in life, leaving a person’s EQ, or emotional intelligence, the leading factor.

But what more can colleges like COC do to help students overcome their stress?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or ADAA, an estimated 40 million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder with 75 percent experiencing their first episode at 22 years old.

And when overwhelmed with homework or worrying about the next test, students often find themselves in a similar state.

A survey completed by the American Psychological Association found that 139 college and university counseling centers saw a rise in students seeking appointments related to stress by 30 percent. Because the issue of mental health continues to grow as a more pressing concern, no institution is exempt from the matter, including COC. So, what exactly do colleges do to aid the students suffering from the stresses surrounding college? Of course the first answer that comes to mind is the counseling that is available to students in need of educational, emotional and mental guidance. But is counseling really enough?

“I was dealing with some problems in my personal life and I felt it was taking a toll on my school work,” admitted former COC student and Cal State, L.A. graduate Apu Minhaz. “Counseling gives you a safe space to talk about any problems or stress you are going through and gives you the tools to deal with them but ultimately it can only help you so much. You have to implement those tools.”

According to the APA, 61 percent of college students who seek counseling report a form of stress. Major mental health issues concerning students related to academics include anxiety and depression.

The APA says 49 percent of students are in a state of depression and another 28 percent found academic performance to be a factor.

Although there is difficulty in counseling all students, those in need of help often don’t know about the resources around them or are too afraid of what seeking counseling might mean.

The COC Health and Wellness Center on the Valencia campus. Luis Villa for Cougar News

“There’s a stigma attached to actually getting counseling,” revealed Student Health and Wellness Center faculty Larry Schallert. “So people tend to [think] ‘I don’t have a problem that’s bad enough.’”

And whether or not a student’s problem would be considered “bad enough,” research suggests that students across the U.S. find themselves in need of guidance.

The ADAA says that over 40 percent of college students identify anxiety as one of the most concerning issues in their lives. Nearly 30 percent of students have also reported that stress had negatively impacted their academic performance.

As a severely stigmatized issue, many students feel uncomfortable turning to treatment for their mental health, leaving an unknown estimate for students experiencing stress without help.

“We have counseling, we have licensed therapists here, we have interns so we have a place where people can come and talk about whatever is going on with them,” added Schallert.

At the Student Health and Wellness Center students can “obtain free counseling from a mental health professional.” These clinicians are specifically available for students to help manage stress levels while attending COC.

Programs are designed to cater to students with general and specific mental health issues. This includes short term individual, couple or group counseling, education and prevention programs as well as referrals to community resources should long-term counseling be necessary.

Although reported stress at colleges have been at a steady incline over recent years, COC continues the fight against the mental health crisis. With new and creative additions to the health and wellness of those on campus, students have more opportunities to manage, and hopefully, overcome mental health problems in an active way.

If you ever need help managing your stress or need someone to talk to, schedule an appointment for the COC Health and Wellness Center at (661) 362-3259.


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