USC addresses stress and wellness campus-wide

The University Religious Center, Undergraduate Student Government, and Mindful USC address wellness, mental health and stress on campus.

This story was originally posted by Annenberg Media. View it here.

The University Religious Center, Undergraduate Student Government, and Mindful USC address wellness, mental health and stress on campus.

Midterm exams are arriving soon, and the USC campus is working on programs and initiatives to help with student’s wellness and mental health.

“If students are experiencing high levels of stress, which is normal at a school like this, there needs to be more accessible ways to talk about that and get help,” Undergraduate Student Government Speaker of the Senate Emily Donahue said.

Students on campus are experiencing a high-volume of stress as the school year is picking up.

“I am in the final year of my program. I have to start applying for jobs. How will I pay off my loans? Those things are coming up in my mind,” Khyati Ashteka said.

If you’re looking to unwind and destress, keep a lookout for the following services offered by the University Religious Center, Undergraduate Student Government, and Mindful USC.

University Religious Center

“I need a stress buster,” Ashteka said as she waited for a yoga class in the URC Fishbowl to begin. “I come here to forget all the chaos and tension that’s going on in my life and to relax myself.”

On top of school, applying for jobs and worrying about her loans, Ashteka discussed the added stress of sending money to her parents who live in India. She mentioned that, unlike in the U.S., she had regular means of alleviating the stress through meditation and yoga classes provided to her from elementary school to college in India.

The center offers yoga classes every Tuesday and Thursday. Timothy Grundy, an Iyengar yoga instructor for the center, said that a typical class has four to five students, but he sees increases during stressful times of the year, like midterms and finals. Grundy hopes that students take away from the class that the body and mind have two-way communication. Understanding this, he says, can help manage stress.

“Many of [the students] have a specific, individual issue they’re dealing with; shoulders, upper back, neck. These are all places you can feel stress build-up,” he said.

Taking the time to focus on your body and letting your mind wander is a great way to alleviate stress, he said.

Outside of yoga classes, the center offers reflection, prayer, and worship services. There is also a discussion lunch, held on the first Wednesday of the month. The topics cover what matters to students and why. The Campfires USC initiative encourages closer relationships between students, and a student lounge is open to all to use.

The lounge offers free tea, phone charging, and ping-pong. Many students use it as a quiet space to do homework or take a nap on the big leather couches.

“It’s a chill spot where I can relax and enjoy tea,” senior economics major Marbella Pleitez said.Mindful USC

Mindful USC

Mindful USC is a faculty, staff, and student-led service aimed at helping the campus practice compassion and mindfulness. The program offers general and open classes to the University, targeted courses for specific schools or departments, and a phone app.

“Mindful USC was created because mindfulness helps people become less stressed, anxious and it also helps with resilience and makes people more connected to their communities,” Mindful USC Director Allen Weiss.

Classes are focused on meditation, processing emotions, and mindfulness. Weiss describes mindfulness as a cultivated skill to pay attention to body sensations and thinking, without judgment, that can be developed through meditation.

“People who take the classes learn how to process difficult emotions, deal with difficult thinking, learn how to have more self-compassion and to have more compassion for other people,” Weiss said.

Weiss’ best tip for students combating stress is to get outdoors, breathe, and focus on the sky and the world around them.

“When you have a negative emotion, your world gets small. The best thing you can do is get out in the open, fresh air and pay attention to space. It can lessen anxiety and stress because it counteracts the tendency to get narrowly around one thing,” he said.

Weiss began practicing mindfulness in 2005, after battling extreme anxiety, post-treatment for a brain tumor.

“I started practicing mindfulness, and I saw all this stress, anxiety and fear start to drift away,” he said.

Weiss suggests students who want to start practicing mindfulness begin by recognizing when they are stressed, try not to think about it and notice it. Then close your eyes and work on releasing tension in the body.

The next set of Mindful USC classes begin Oct. 21.

Undergraduate Student Government

Following a Sept. 10 statement reaffirming their commitment to campus mental health, USG has started working on initiatives to increase access to resources and address student concerns.

USG senators are working on:

Redesigning the Engelman Health Center website to be more intuitive
Adding mental health training for recognized student organizations
Fee reimbursements or waivers for victims of sexual assault’s transportation to hospitals and rape kit fees
Subsidies for off-campus counseling services
Removing the $20 missed appointment fee for the student health center’s mental health services
Increasing transparency.
“The timing is a response to events that happened on our campus, the last few weeks … we wanted it to be a direct response to what’s been going on on our campus for years,” Donahue said. “There’s a huge gap in how we approach mental health and provide resources, especially at a unique school like USC.”

Senators are also working on another initiative, still in its infancy, to bring the mobile therapy app TalkSpace to campus.

“This could be a great way to alleviate the burden the counseling center feels with so many patients and increase options for students,” Donahue said.

The initiatives are also a response to student complaints, about long waits for mental health counseling and accessibility to the USG senate.

“We want to say, we hear you, and we hear what’s going on. This statement is our commitment to how we are going to change and include student voices,” Donahue, who co-authored the statement, said.

The Senate did not initially list the initiatives on the statement because they are still tentative programs.

“There are always administrative roadblocks, and it sometimes looks to students like we are failing them,” she said. “But this is our chance to get student suggestions, feedback, and involvement as we said in our statement.”

The Senate will release an update Oct. 15.

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