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October 21, 1987 - Image 39

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-10-21

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Each year of college brings its own common problems,
from breaking with the past to coping with the future

susceptibility. But one overarching cause, noted by many
experts, is a sense of emotional isolation. "When you're going
through emotional traumas, they become too much to handle
when you feel alone," says Nancy Nelkin, a social worker on
the Tulane counseling staff. Those who are most likely to
crack under pressure are those who cannot find, or fail to
form, a support system for themselves. That can be particular-
ly hard when they are part of a minority. A Notre Dame
graduate student who is gay as well as non-Catholic found
coping with his academic overload that much harder. In
counseling for 18 months, he is now a recovering alcoholic.
Blacks at mostly white institutions may feel similarly alone.
American Studies major George Braxton, 22, at Maryland,
says he tries to teach younger students the facts of academic
life: "You will be ignored by a professor. You will sit in a class
and feel left out."
Families can guide students through the storms of academic
life-or make them worse. Expectations may be extraordi-
nary. Phillip Moore, who counsels students at New York
University, many of them first-generation collegians, says,
"Students whose parents attended college have a more re-
laxed attitude. They have a clearer perspective about how
education fits into one's life in general, and they put less
emphasis on their GPA." Many Tulane students who go to
Nelkin feel they are living out their parents' ambitions.
"When you are going to college for Mom and Dad, and not
because you want to, you have less fulfillment," says Nelkin,
who adds that less fulfillment means less of an emotional

reservoir when stress sets in. On the other hand, affluence
does not automatically afford protection against burnout. Stu-
dents from wealthy families "have seen the good life and don't
want to lose it," explains USC's Bradford King.
Unwitting harm: Many students confront homesickness, but for
those with broken homes and scattered families, solace is espe-
cially difficult to find. Parents often hold together an unravel-
ing marriage until a child is safely tucked away at school-and
may unwittingly exacerbate the pressures of freshman year.
When Patricia Doerries arrived at Tulane last fall, she says, her
parents were separating. While trying to deal with a wearing
course load, she also found herself crying constantly and avoid-
ing other people. Doerries was fortunate to have made a
healthy adjustment. She joined a supportive sorority and says
her roommate "was really great. She was able to help me put
things in the proper perspective."
All too often, however, the unhealthy coping mechanisms
win out. Scott Hamilton arrived at Iowa's Grinnell College with
a good academic record, but quickly felt as if "I didn't belong
with all these brilliant people." He dawdled over his assign-
ments and wound up handing in papers three weeks late. With
his father frequently traveling on business, his mother in
Oklahoma and his brother in Japan, Hamilton found it difficult
to find family members to share his anxiety with. When he
started feeling as if he were drowning in work, he says, he used
to party hard: "I looked forward to Saturday nights. I would get
drunk with others who wanted to escape, too." Finally, thanks
to counseling, he decided to drop out for a semester. Jobs as a

A Drug to Lessen Test Anxiety?

SAT's might as well stand
for Stress And Tension as
far as legions of students
are concerned. But the re-
sults of an experiment at
Brandeis could help modi-
fy that. Prescription drugs
called beta blockers were
given to a group of high-
school students who were
then able to dramatically
improve their SAT scores.
Though the study represents
a breakthrough for nervous
test takers, it also fuels the
debate about the virtues of
self-medication. "We all have
the same worry," says Dr.
Harrison Faigel, director of
university health services at
Brandeis. "If you take im-
pressionable young people
and give them medicine to
take care of social problems,

you don't want to send the
message that you can just
solve these things with pills
and potions."
Beta blockers, which con-
sist solely of a basic individual
amino acid, ease the physical
effects of nervousness. When
the body is under stress, it pro-
duces adrenaline. The adren-
aline triggers the brain to
produce endorphins, which
create an on-the-edge eupho-
ria and can also interfere with
the memory function. Beta
blockers interfere with the re-
lease of endorphins and mini-
mize their effects.
Beta blockers have been on
the market for 25 years. They
can be given to heart patients
to halt the effects of adren-
aline-and in much smaller
doses they relieve minor

stress. Doctors have long pre-
scribed the drug for actors
and musicians as a stage-
fright antidote. "Sometimes
my legs shake uncontrolla-
bly," says a third-year violin
student at Juilliard. "Beta
blockers stop the shaking."
Still, most who have prescrip-
tions use the drug in secrecy.
As a recent graduate of Bos-
ton's New England Conserva-
tory of Music explains: "Some
people think it's a crutcb."
Side effects: Dr. Faigel con-
ducted the Brandeis study in
order to add scientific evi-
dence to the talk about beta
blockers. He tested 30 high-
school juniors and seniors
who had scored poorly on
their first SAT's due to test
anxiety. All the students were
tested for 'intelligence and to

screen out learning disabil-
ities before being chosen for
the study. Faigel gave propan-
olol, a beta blocker, to 22 stu-
dents before they took the
SAT again. Though second-
time SAT takers usually im-
prove their scores by an aver-
age of 28 points on both
sections, the students in Fai-
gel's study improved by an av-
erage of more than 100 points.
(The other eight, a control
group, improved by an aver-
age of only 11 points.)
Faigel is excited by the
study, but he is quick to warn
that "there is no such thing as
a drug free of side effects,"
adding that asthma sufferers
should be especially careful
since adrenaline helps open
constricted bronchial tubes.
Until more extensive tests are
done, there is bound to be con-
troversy over the safety of
prescribing these powerful
drugs for simple stress.
SUE HUTCHISON inBoston

OCTOBER 1987 NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 7

NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 7

OCTOBER 1987

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