Wellness center teaches students techniques to de-stress in weekly program

Niyah Coles
Contributing Writer

Students can learn how to de-stress and succeed academically with Mindful Mondays at VCU.

Hosted by The Wellness Resource Center, the program is comprised of weekly sessions for students to learn how to engage in different types of mindfulness — being aware or conscious of a state of being. Sessions are open to all VCU students.

“It’s just a way for students to learn a new skill and practice a new technique that they can incorporate into their daily routine throughout that week,” said Trisha Saunders, associate director at The Well. “It’s an overall way to try to reduce their levels of stress and practice being present.”

Saunders began Mindful Mondays in 2016. The initiative did not have a name at first, but it was intended for students to practice skills to help de-stress. Saunders saw how the sessions helped lower student stress levels and decided to make weekly meditations an ongoing program.

“The evaluations demonstrated how effective even just a 20-minute mindfulness practice can be for students,” Saunders said.

During the session, students practice different types of meditation styles, such as focus breathing techniques. Students sit in a room with peaceful music playing in the background while Saunders instructs. At the session held Oct. 29, students sat in a circle and practiced a specific focus breathing technique called progressive muscle relaxation.  This breathing exercise focuses attention of specific muscles in the body, which Saunders said helps concentration and clarity. Students practice deep breathing, count and hold their breath as they exhale, increasing focus awareness. Students can perform other breathing techniques such as yoga-based breathing.

She added that mindfulness decreases levels of stress and anxiety, improves moods and helps students concentrate.

For Saunders, stress is the most prominent issue impacting a student’s academic success. Students who attend the sessions learn how to manage stress and anxiety levels by meditating for 30 minutes and practicing other mindfulness techniques every week, such as art therapy and guided meditations.

Programs like Mindful Mondays have had significant benefits in students’ academic pursuits, said James May, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“There are many stressors in a student’s life that will impact their ability to be successful,” Mays said. “Having such resources can be critical in just helping students feel better about their situation.”

Mays said there are resources in place to assist students in their academic endeavors. He said it is important to help students learn mindfulness because it helps them save time and complete coursework.

Saunders said there are other techniques students can practice to reduce stress. Her suggestions were to try deep breathing techniques — but she also said practicing gratitude and self-compassion goes further. Saunders suggested students could also participate in exercise to help reduce stress.

“We all experience stress differently,” Saunders said. “It all depends on whether the stress is internal or external and whether we have access to the resources and support we need to deal with some of those stressors.”

Mindful Mondays take place at The Well every Monday at noon. To learn more, visit thewell.vcu.edu/wellness/mindfulness/.

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