Skip to main content

Hands-on psychology exercise teaches stress management techniques

Apr 30, 2021
A woman holds up her hand to show a mood dot
A woman holds up her hand to show a mood dot

KOKOMO, Ind. — As Allison Ireland-Haight texted a classmate for help on a history assignment due in just a few short hours, the tiny biodot on her hand faded from brown to the deepest black imaginable.

The biodot — which is kind of like a mood ring in sticker form — provided the Indiana University Kokomo senior a visual reminder that she was stressed. When her friend let her know the paper wasn’t due for another day, the dot changed to blue before her eyes, indicating tranquility.

“Having the biodot is a reminder that I tend to overthink things, and I need to take some deep breaths and see if I am overthinking,” she said.

Ireland-Haight, from Juneau, Alaska, wore the biodot as part of an abnormal psychology class taught by Yamini Bellare, clinical assistant professor of psychology, who also used them in her health psychology class. Bellare received an active learning grant to buy the dots.

“I want to give them the opportunity to engage with the material we are learning, as well as gain something they can use for their own health and well-being,” she said. “It’s not just learning the research but helping them apply it in their own lives. We’re benefiting students in ways that are more realistic.”

Students took five color readings per day for five days, showing if they were stressed (black), tense (brown), involved (tan), calm (green), tranquil (blue), or deeply relaxed (purple). Bellare also provided resources for relaxation, such as videos about guided meditations and breathing exercises, to show what to do to alleviate stress.

She noted that in addition to teaching, she is also a licensed psychologist, and knows how stressful college life can be — especially during a global pandemic.

“Even though I’m a faculty member, at heart, I’m a counselor,” she said. “I care about the students’ health and well-being. Even five minutes of relaxing can have a huge impact on your mental health. If they can take home some strategies for self-care, we can prevent burnout. They can use this not only as students, but in life.”

Ireland-Haight said her class has been learning about mental health disorders, and how you can’t tell by looking at someone that he or she has one.

“Stress is very similar to these disorders we’re learning about,” she said. “I don’t often show my stress on the outside, but my hands get clammy, and I feel my heart start to beat faster. This gave me a visual reminder that I needed to take a minute.”

John Parkison said his biodot was a reminder to try some silent meditation when he felt stressed, and to know what activities might trigger stress, so he could be prepared with calming techniques.

“I would usually go to silent meditation, to be present with myself,” said Parkison, from Sharpsville. “I think this project helped me identify what makes me stressed. I can remember that for events that cause me stress that I know I’m going to repeat, like studying, doing homework, or taking a quiz. It helps me remember that next time I have something like this I will be ready. I will have response techniques ready to go, locked and loaded.”

Bellare said some therapists use biofeedback machines for a similar result, but it costs thousands of dollars to buy and maintain one. In contrast, the biodots cost about 10 cents each — less than $1 per student for her project.

It’s a small price to pay for what she hopes will be long-term benefits.

“Research shows that if you apply something to yourself, if you personalize the material, you are more likely to remember it,” she said. “I hope this will help them make permanent change.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

More stories

An illustration of a school hallway
IU Kokomo