Photo Courtesy of CSUEB
As she sat against a folded, hand-woven Mexican blanket, Cal State East Bay Health and Services counselor Sarah Barnard passed around peppermint and lavender essential oils to students and told them to choose one and to smell it or massage it into their hands.
“Scent is one of the ways to bring yourself down to a very rudimentary, simple principle level and essential oils is a simple and accessible way to do that,” said Barnard.
Three students gathered with Barnard in the Wellness Center room inside the Recreation and Wellness Center on Feb. 9, for “Calm and Clear: Mindfulness Tools For YOU,” a workshop held twice a week to help students reduce stress by providing them with guided mindfulness tools like meditation and self-care practices. The workshop takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:15 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. in the Wellness room at the RAW Center.
Barnard then asked students how they felt about their week, and students reported stress from school work and irritation from problems in their personal relationships. Barnard guided attendees in breathing exercises to help center their mindsets. She often employs “square breathe,” a technique used to help calm and ground themselves by exhaling and inhaling for a same amount of time. “It’s hard for your mind to wander when you’re focused in that way,” said Barnard.
Barnard is a registered yoga instructor and often uses yoga-inspired exercises to help attendees relieve stress and stay focused on the present moment.
“To notice how you’re feeling and then to name it aloud can sometimes be in of itself a self-care practice,” she says. “[Mindfulness] is like strengthening a muscle of focus… and so it’s kinda practicing what it’s like to be in the present moment.”
Every fourth Thursday of the month, students who show up for Barnard’s mindfulness session can also participate in coloring or other self-expression activities like inspirational collages, or vision boards. “For a grounding and centering creative experience, coloring has been shown to be a helpful and simple self-care practice,” said Barnard.
During the last 30 days of the 2016 spring quarter, 11 percent of CSUEB students felt hopeless, 19.1 percent felt overwhelmed, 16.9 percent felt exhausted — not from physical activity — and 11.7 percent felt lonely, according to the National College Health Assessment, a national survey conducted by the NCHA every two years to collect data on students’ behavior to assist college health educators, counselors and other services.
After seeing the NCHA 2016 results, CSUEB health educator Elizabeth Ghobrial thought students would benefit from a safe space on campus to practice mindfulness and meditation to help them cope with anxiety and stress.
Ghobrial asked Barnard to collaborate with her “Self-Care Program” to create a weekly outlet to help students focus on their mental health and practice self-care by using mindfulness techniques.
Ghobrial and Barnard launched their first two pilots of “Calm and Clear” during the fall 2016 term with the help of RAW interns and other student participants. Students reportedly enjoyed learning new stress relief tools, and the session had a peaceful environment. After receiving positive feedback, Ghobrial and Barnard officially launched the program the second week of the winter 2017 term.
“We care about the holistic health of a student; their mental, physical, emotional health,” Ghobrial said. “We care about their academic [well-being] so that we can support them to graduate and help them fulfill their goals and the reason why they came here.”
Ghobrial, who runs a self-care program in the RAW center, believes that students who have busy schedules forget that their own mental health is a priority as well. If not taken care of, it could affect their academics performance, she said.
“If you don’t focus on yourself and take care of yourself, you’ll have nothing left to give,” said Ghobrial. “It might seem selfish but when you focus on caring for yourself and your own needs, you are making a statement that you are valuable enough to be taken care of.”