Date Uploaded: 06/05/2016
Playing with puppies. Free yoga classes. Social media “holidays”. Mindfulness tips. These are just some of the ways colleges and universities are trying to ease the frazzled nerves of students as they face into their end-of-year exams.
NUI Galway, for instance, has rolled out a free “de-stress” programme for students. It involves drop-in sessions where students are offered relaxation and mindfulness in “The Space”, upstairs in Áras na Mac Léinn.
The dedicated programme was an extension of mindfulness sessions and workshops on how to prepare for exams and cope with stress offered during the year.
NUIG student counsellor Geraldine Connolly says some undergraduates – particularly men – tend to prefer a bit more action. That’s why activities ranging from virtual spins to 5km walks/runs and kickabouts have been scheduled for students over recent weeks.
Canine therapy has been used in colleges in recent years to help calm stressed-out students. Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork have provided “puppy rooms” as part of exam survival initiatives through their student welfare office or students’ unions
But if there is any trend sweeping campuses this year, it is mindfulness. While it has been extolled for its ability to reduce anxiety, increase focus and serve as an anti-depressant, there have been conflicting scientific views on its benefits for memory.
Mindfulness instructor Martina Coyne says NUIG students tend to be “very open to and aware of” the acknowledged benefits.
In tandem with this, NUIG is striving to become a “mindful university”, seeking to become the first such in Europe.
Former British Labour MP Chris Ruane, who taught mindfulness in the House of Commons, and Tibetan Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten were among speakers at a scene-setting conference.
“In a world that is becoming more mindless, it is best for us to stop and put the pause button on and reflect,” said Prof Lokesh Joshi, NUIG vice-president for research. He has found over 25 years that it allows one to “achieve more with less stress”.
The conference opening, however, was marked by a protest by several Galway Buddhists, including Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who won a landmark equality case against the university in 2014. The protesters’ focus was on gender-equality issues, while another “elephant on the campus”, said a participant, was the issue across third-level institutions of a two-tier system of employment. There are 253 people on contracts of indefinite duration in NUIG, with 106 in research – including in the “flagship” areas of science and engineering.
The protesters questioned why previous mindfulness and meditation offered at NUIG as part of student services had been cut, and why “experts” were being flown in when there was already expertise within its staff body.
NUIG students’ union president Phelim Kelly raises similar questions, and wonders whether there is an attempt by the college to deflect attention from stress-inducing issues.
“I’m all for mindfulness, but I think the university could be putting more resources into increasing the staff/student ratio, given that it has not kept pace with the increase in student numbers,” Mr Kelly says.
Journalist: Lorna Siggins