College Program To Reduce Stress Is Good For Everyone

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When college students learn specific techniques for managing stress and anxiety, their wellbeing improves across a range of measures and leads to better mental health, a new Yale study finds.

The research team evaluated three classroom-based wellness training programs that incorporate breathing and emotional intelligence strategies, finding that two led to improvements in aspects of wellbeing. The most effective program led to improvements in six areas, including depression and social connectedness.

The researchers, who reported findings in the July 15 edition of Frontiers in Psychiatry, said such resiliency training programs could be a valuable tool for addressing the mental health crisis on university campuses.

“In addition to academic skills, we need to teach students how to live a balanced life,” said Emma Seppälä, lead author and faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at Yale School of Management. “Student mental health has been on the decline over the last 10 years, and with the pandemic and racial tensions, things have only gotten worse.”

Researchers at the Yale Child Study Center and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI) conducted the study, which tested three skill-building training programs on 135 undergraduate subjects for eight weeks (30 hours total) and measured results against those of a non-intervention control group.

They found that a training program called SKY Campus Happiness, developed by the Art of Living Foundation, which relies on:

  • a breathing technique called SKY Breath Meditation (a middle eastern technique)
  • yoga postures (ancient Indian technique)
  • social connection (A.K.A. talking to people, the modern method)
  • service activities (ancient Western technique, A.K.A. get out there and do stuff)

was most beneficial. Following the SKY sessions, students reported improvements in six areas of wellbeing: depression, stress, mental health, mindfulness, positive affect, and social connectedness.

A second program called Foundations of Emotional Intelligence, developed by the YCEI resulted in one improvement: greater mindfulness — the ability for students to be present and enjoy the moment. Also known as not worrying about what isn’t happening.

A third program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which relies heavily on mindfulness techniques, resulted in no reported improvements.

In all, 135 Yale undergraduate students participated in the study. Across college campuses, there has been a significant rise in student depression, anxiety, and demand for mental health services. From 2009 to 2014, students seeking treatment from campus counseling centers rose by 30%, though enrollment increased by just 6% on average. Fifty-seven percent of counseling center directors indicated that their resources are insufficient to meet students’ needs.

The researchers say resiliency training tools can address the overburdening of campus counseling centers directly. In the sessions. “Students learn tools they can use for the rest of their lives to continue to improve and maintain their mental health,” said co-first author Christina Bradley ’16 B.S., currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan.

Researchers administered the training sessions in person, but the courses can also be taken remotely.

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