Organisation - November 7, 2019

Deal with the causes of stress

Coretta Jongeling,Luuk Zegers

During the Surf Your Stress week from 11 to 15 November, WUR students and staff can learn ways of dealing with stress. There will be workshops on time management, the art of failure and mindfulness. A good idea? Or is that just symptom-surfing, and does WUR need change its policies for stress levels to drop?

text Coretta Jongeling and Luuk Zegers  illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek


Louise Bommelé

BSc student of Health and Society

‘WUR is sending out mixed messages. First there’s the Surf your Stress project, where they say working until deep in the night is the fast track to a burnout, and then they proudly announce that the library in Forum is open until midnight during the study week, which normalizes the idea that it’s fine to study until late. The university should work towards creating a healthy working environment, for example no longer setting deadlines for midnight on Sunday. If they made them a more normal time on Friday, students wouldn’t have to devote their entire weekend to studying. That way you prevent those at high risk of a burnout – people who always feel they haven’t done enough – from keeping going until midnight.’

The library stays open until midnight; those are mixed messages
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Patrick Steinmann

Speaking on behalf of the PhD Council

‘The things WUR does about stress: put on a play, organize a “time-out” café, hold two workshops and three talks, provide a stress ball pool. The things WUR should be doing about stress: hire enough people for the present workload; pay all researchers – including sandwich PhD students – a decent living wage; adjust the number of incoming students to the amount of supervision available and to the housing market. As the PhD Council, we hope that in the future WUR tackles the roots of the stress problem rather than teaching people how to surf the symptoms.’

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Pieter Rouweler

Head of Insect Rearing at the Entomology Lab

‘It would be good if WUR looked into how people can become more resilient to stress or how workloads can be reduced when necessary. In our department it was a great help when money was made available so we could employ someone for a lot of the teaching work. That gave profs and postdocs more time for their other work. It’s also important to look out for one another in the workplace, to help each other and give positive feedback when things go well. If you feel appreciated it’s easier to accept and discuss criticism, and that prevents a lot of stress. Some of my colleagues really enjoy the chair massages that WUR offers. That’s not really my thing, so I pass my massage slots on to others.’

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Annemarie Teunissen

Biology study advisor

‘A lot of students suffer from stress. There are a number of clear causes. Some political decisions have considerably increased the stress on students. On top of that, stress is also a general problem in society. It affects everyone including teachers and other members of staff. The problem is not just confined to WUR. Succumbing to stress is not a personal failure. We have to learn how to deal with it. That’s why I think Surf your Stress is a good idea, for staff as well. It’s also important to learn to stand up for yourself, to be able to say “no” if a deadline is unrealistic. That’s personal development. Fortunately more and more MOS modules (modular skills trainings for Master’s students, Ed.) cover personal development subjects. And we are also offering Personal Motivation Assessment more often as an elective course. What makes you happy? What do you want? That’s a big help for dealing with stress. I think the university can do a lot by offering tools to help people learn how to deal with stress.’


Filipe Ribeiro da Cunha

Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology

‘My colleagues and I experience a lot of stress. The main cause is the way to-do lists of small stuff get longer and longer. It never stops. My diary is crammed full and it’s almost impossible to get all the work done when little matters keep cropping up that require my attention. The worst thing is the enormous number of emails. Yesterday I received 65, not counting the spam. Although many people say you don’t have to answer mails immediately, it doesn’t feel like that. It would be good for our inboxes and our minds if the university introduced a healthier email culture. Say by blocking mail after a certain hour, or by encouraging more face-to-face contact. Although, then we’d probably drive ourselves mad with all those pointless meetings…’

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Marije van Santen

BSc student of Landscape Architecture and Planning

‘My course is hard work. They warn us: if you can’t take the pressure now, you won’t manage later either. And there’s external pressure too, the student loan for example. And if you don’t pass certain subjects you can’t start other ones, which means you get delayed by a year. The university should look into making things more flexible – that would certainly reduce stress. I’ve had RSI now for about a year, and that’s not just due to my posture but also because of stress. It would be good to devote much more attention in the first year to the balance between work and free time. There’s so much to do that is tempting for an 18-year-old: you have to pass your coursework and build up a social life in a new place. Students should be told about stress, burnout and RSI by other students who have suffered from these problems. That would have more impact.’