[This is article one in a recurring column guiding students through the navigation of mental health on college campuses. According to CollegeStats, 50 percent of students rate their mental health as below average or poor, and up to 80 percent of college students share that they feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. This column aims to assist students in their pursuit of emotional growth.]
Stress is completely normal, and everyone experiences it. As college students, sometimes stress can become abundant and difficult to manage while we attempt to juggle our responsibilities, especially as we enter the end of the semester. It’s important to learn how to effectively manage stress, because when it becomes too overwhelming, functioning normally can become nearly impossible.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stress is not only mentally taxing, but can manifest itself in physical symptoms as well. Signs include headaches, difficulty sleeping, jaw pain, appetite changes, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and just feeling overwhelmed in general.
Here at West Chester University, the Contemplative Studies Center—located directly next to the Merion Science Center—offers programs during the semester that help teach stress management techniques by focusing on the art of mindfulness. According to Mindful, mindfulness is “the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe and space between ourselves and our reactions.”
The Contemplative Studies Center offers classes in yoga, meditation, Aikido martial arts, mindful art and programs in reading aloud. The Center is committed to having students teach other students methods that they can use every day in order to continue their practice of mindfulness and stress management at home.
“One thing that’s interesting about the center is that it is essentially student-run. Students are leading the meditations and leading the yoga, so it’s peer-to-peer rather than some crotchety old man telling them what to do,” says the Contemplative Studies co-director Dr. Donald McCown, PhD.
While the Contemplative Studies’ faculty and students offer numerous programs, it might be difficult with such a demanding schedule to set aside time for yoga or meditation. NAMI suggests that simply recognizing the triggers of stress and avoiding them when possible can be extremely helpful. It is also important to prioritize time management and avoid procrastination as much as possible. Often, time limits can be stressful, so keeping a daily planner or journal can allow for stress relief in terms of deadlines.
Another proven reduction for stress is eating a balanced diet and exercising as often as you can find time. Healthy eating not only provides balance for your body, but for your mind as well. Fruits and vegetables help stabilize mood, while processed and junk food can lead to a more sluggish feeling. Exercise works in a similar way, as taking part in an enjoyable physical activity can allow for natural stress-relieving hormones in your body to be produced.
The Center for Contemplative Studies is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and offers classes as well as free times where anyone can take advantage of the Center, with McCown sharing, “Maybe you just want to come in and take a nap.” For more information on events, visit https://www.wcupa.edu/healthSciences/contemplativeStudies/events.aspx.
Julianna Eckman is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in journalism and psychology. JE848886@wcupa.edu