On-campus volunteer program helps students de-stress

Skylar Zannini, El Inde

Stressbusters made its official return to the University of Arizona campus last fall after being forced to shut down in 2020 due to COVID. 

The UA Stressbusters is part of a national outreach program that teaches student volunteers how to be resource advisors and backrub providers. 

Stressbusters was founded at Columbia University in 2006 by Jordan Friedman, also known as “The Stress Coach.” Friedman visited the UA campus last fall and assisted with training the new Stressbusters volunteers, offering personal experiences to help them along. 

“It was a really cool experience,” said Olivia Gibbons, a UA freshman who was at the training with Friedman. 

Gibbons is passionate about her involvement with Stressbusters and credits the “simple allure of bringing back the culture of being okay to touch people” as one of her initial reasons for joining.

A Stressbuster volunteer gives student a backrub at Campus Recreation during a Stressbusters event at Campus Recreation. Photo by Lee Ann Hamilton

“It’s one of the few freshmen-friendly groups where you can have an impact on the community for a long time,” said Gibbons. 

Sometimes it can be hard for freshmen to find their place on a campus this large, but Gibbons said she is happy where she is and plans on staying involved.

Stressbusters is a free service, but this is only possible through Campus Health funding. Because it’s a national program, there is an annual fee to use the program and licensing. “This year we paid through grant funding,” said Ryley Tegler, one of the Stressbuster coordinators.

Tegler graduated from UA and now works as a health educator at UA Campus Health, specializing in health promotion and risk reduction events and programs. This is her first year being involved with Stressbusters, and is “really passionate about stress reduction. … One of my favorite parts about working at the university is working with the students, so Stressbusters is really both of those things.”

Stressbusters only focus on the neck, upper back and arms of their “Stressbustee,” and are consistently checking in for feedback about how the student they are working with is feeling throughout the backrub. The events are all in public areas and every person who wants a backrub “willingly comes and signs up,” giving their consent to be touched by the Stressbuster, who tries to make the experience “as relaxing and comfortable as possible.”

Although there are many benefits to being the recipient of a backrub, UA Campus Health Assistant Director Lee Ann Hamilton sees that Stressbusters equally benefits the volunteers. 

“It sounds kind of corny, but it’s that opportunity to make someone’s day. Our volunteers feel they’re doing something valuable with their time,” she said. “How often do we get the chance to really impact somebody in just 5 minutes?”

A line of Stressbuster volunteers gives backrubs to students during a Stressbusters event at Campus Recreation. Photo by Lee Ann Hamilton

Hamilton has been a Stressbusters coordinator since it began back in 2013. 

“We all need positive, healthy touch and it really fills that need for a lot of people,” she said. “What’s not to like.”

There is also a Stressbusters app that offers a variety of services, ranging from guided meditations to positive affirmations to a calendar of Campus Health and wellness events. It is free to download and can be used by anybody, regardless of student status.

There are weekly Stressbuster events around campus, each with its own team of back-rubbing-resource-providing pros. Check out the Campus Health website (https://health.arizona.edu/stressbusters) or their social media (@UAZCampusHealth) to find out more.

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