As AU students advance through the spring semester, many may experience similar anxieties and stressors to those that plagued them throughout the fall. Between taking the right courses, working, interning, participating in campus activities and managing a few hours of sleep per night, AU students are known for their ambitious activities, stressful schedules and national success.
This inevitable stress often leads to additional emotional symptoms, such as loneliness, depressive moods. Physical symptoms can also accompany stress, possibly resulting in medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux and even the common cold. Unfortunately for the enthusiastic and busy students at AU and those at selective schools around the country, mental health sometimes takes a spot on the back burner.
However, students have the opportunity to seek out different options at AU that can improve their mental health. Between weekly yoga in the Katzen Arts Center, mindful Mondays and time management workshops, AU offers incredible opportunities for students to take control of their mental health.
AU undergraduate advisers, Alicia Mandac and Marianne Norman, run a weekly mindful Mondays session for students to practice the art of mindfulness. Due to their role as both advisers and leaders of these sessions, they shared how students can make this spring semester the best one yet by taking control of their stress levels and decreasing negative physical reactions to stress.
“[We notice] how the level of stress is impacting the college experience, impacting the ability to make decisions, impacting the ability to study. I can just feel other student’s stress when they come in,” Mandac said. “But then noticing patterns where students would, because of their levels of stress and anxiety, would stop going to class, would not reach out to their professors, would not respond to my outreach...the general reason is because it was so stressful that they didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. And there is a lot of shutting down.”
Both Mandac and Norman found students often feel out of control and lack the tools to manage the stress themselves. By participating in campus activities such as their mindful Mondays sessions, students can learn specific tools and skills that will give them the power to manage stress on their own.
Norman said one way students can help control stress is taking out the word “should” when students talk to themselves. Instead of telling themselves, “I should be doing this,” it is important to focus on what you want to be doing.
“That's where mindfulness comes into play as well,” Norman said. “It’s really figuring out what you need and want for yourself, versus what you think you should be achieving or doing.”
It’s really figuring out what you need and want for yourself, versus what you think you should be achieving or doing.
Norman said she sees many students beating themselves up about the things they should accomplish. She emphasized the importance of understanding that students have no control over what they have not done, and they are capable of doing things differently in the present. Many students will sit and dwell on their mistakes, when they need to be looking forward at what they are capable of accomplishing now, she said.
AU advisers get a first hand look at the intense pressures that college students experience. There is pressure to do everything, when the reality is that it’s alright if you don’t, Mandac said. Once a student realizes there is nothing they should achieve, but only things they want to achieve, they can then focus on what they are personally capable of accomplishing.
“I had a conversation with a student yesterday where she wanted to change her major yet again, but she’s feeling like it’s too late and she has to figure this out. And actually you don’t,” Mandac said. “It’s okay if you don’t end up with the three majors and two minors and five internships. I think that felt pressure is increasing the already stressful situation.”
Though some stressors can be handled through this self care to improve mental health, students need to be aware that severe anxiety or depression may require more professional treatment. Mandac and Norman stressed the importance of students being in tune with how they’re actually feeling. A severe, clinical mental health concern should be treated by a professional.
A good place to start recognizing larger issues is with these mindfulness techniques, which can help build a student’s awareness of the level of their stress and anxiety, according to Norman.
“If students are feeling stress, just taking a minute -- one minute -- you don’t even need a whole lot of time. Just one minute to pause, focus on your breath, you can probably change the reaction that you’re having to something,” Norman said. “With mindfulness there’s a stimulus, and then you can take a pause, and then instead of having a reaction you can have a response to that thing.”
Norman explained that it’s acceptable for students to allow themselves to feel emotions, but they should not let negative emotions overpower them. If students feel angry, sad or disappointed, they should accept the feeling, but then move on, after a short period of time, according to Norman. When that time limit is up, you must move on to what is next.
“Take that pause, because we all want to be reactionary. It’s a normal human reaction. All of this comes from normal human things,” Mandac said. “A lot of it comes from the flight or flight. Mindfulness is a skill that can help you respond in a different way.”
Many AU students balance multiple extracurricular activities, and some may take on more than is manageable. As advisers, both Mandac and Norman emphasized that college is not a template that you can fill in. Everyone has their own experiences, reactions and plans, and there is no need to look for a specific end result while in college, they said.
Students should focus on what is the next step in their lives, whether that next step is as simple as finishing a paper or passing a test. Mandac and Norman said students can break down tasks to help them target smaller goals and stay in the moment, rather than looking at the bigger picture that may be less controllable.
“The point is to learn about yourself, study something that you’re passionate in, find something that you like to do, which does not mean your major-that’s completely outside of it,” Mandac said.
AU has a variety of ways students can access help for a wide range of needs. Resources include everything from taking a walk to getting involved in a club or even having a conversation. Reaching out to these resources is an important part of the college experience and can help individuals achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
According to Mandac, taking advantage of the help on campus can help students learn to manage their time better, and sleep better, giving themselves more energy for studying and classes.
The counseling center has a variety of opportunities for professional and self help. A simple first step is to book an informational appointment, where the counseling center will recommend steps to strengthen your mental health. To learn more about the counseling center, check out The Eagle’s coverage of Counseling Center options from the December 2014 print edition.
If you experience overwhelming stress and anxiety, the Counseling Center offers free, online Anonymous Mental Health Screenings where you can answer a few questions to test for common clinical diagnoses. If one-on-one sessions aren’t for you, they also offer Group Sessions. You can access a variety of online self-help pamphlets and regular relaxation sessions in the counseling center.
The Katzen Arts Center offers weekly yoga sessions among the beautiful art of the Katzen museum. Classes are $10 a session or free for museum members.
To participate in Mandac and Norman’s mindful Mondays sessions, attend their weekly practice on Mondays throughout the semester. The practice guides students through simple, accessible tools to help relieve stress. According to Mandac, as many as five new students may attend every session, and there is no expectation to come regularly or have any experience in mindfulness practice.
The career center and academic advisers can offer guidance for the future and help relieve stress. Make an appointment online or by calling the offices to discuss future work, internships, applications, class schedules or overall stress that may be relevant to your education or career.
The ASAC offers academic skills workshops that can help with time management, learning strategies, note taking, procrastination, writing papers and more. These workshops are great ways to get tips on academic success, as well as learn from other student’s struggles.
The campus fitness center is a great way to relieve some stress and boost endorphins for a happier semester. At these centers you can take a swim, go for a jog, try a group exercise class, sign up for personal training and more. The first week of the semester the classes are free, so check out which ones resonate well with you. For a complete list of group exercise classes, click here.
Even if religion and spirituality aren’t for you, many religious leaders in Kay are available to talk about everything and anything with students. Kay is also a great place to take part in meditations, regularly run throughout the semester.
Professor’s Office Hours
Never forget that your professors want you to succeed. Most have office hours available for anything: from asking questions about a class to advice on what internships to apply for in the summer. Don’t forget that your professor won’t know you are struggling unless you tell them, and they are usually more than happy to help you in any way they can.