In recent years, college students have spoken out about the mental toll higher education can have on them, with the pandemic compounding these issues. But all too often, students worry about universities using mental health awareness to look empathetic, neglecting the actual care of students. USF’s Stress Less Day, however, aimed to create a healthy atmosphere for discussing students’ mental health. Students participated in free messages, tie-dying, and raffles to relieve stress on Thursday, March 24, for USF’s Health Promotion Services’ event.
The event filled Gleeson Plaza with music, booths, and relaxing activities. Many USF organizations were represented, including Gleeson Library, University Ministry, KUSF, and GoTeam, as well as Dignity Health, who offered free massages to students. Campus organizations, like Gleeson Library and University Ministry handed out pamphlets and take home activities to help relieve stress. “It’s less about the actual services, and more about gathering as a community that helps with mental health,” said an anonymous student, “it’s nice to see people you know at these things.”
USF Kinesiology Professor Dr. Sarah Camhi led a table for gratitude rock painting. Dr. Camhi’s research includes the mental and physical health effects of the newly created USF Urban Trail, a path through campus that encourages students to reflect and process as they go. One of the features of the Urban Trail will be the Gratitude Rock Garden, which will hold the rocks painted by USF students at the event. In the garden, students will be surrounded by the grateful sentiments, which can increase mindfulness and reduce stress. The focus on positive reinforcement, combined with the therapy of art is well documented in lowering stress levels.
Three groups from the Performing Arts and Social Justice (PASJ) Rock Band course were a highlight of the event, playing music from Marshall Tucker, The Cranberries, Radiohead, Carol King, and more. They rocked so hard, it attracted passersby, including a group of small children, who especially enjoyed dancing along to “Fell in Love with a Girl” by the White Stripes.
Many of the activities offered have scientific merit. Last year IUP Journal of Organizational Behavior published a study which investigated stress levels in college students. It stated that “Active coping was found to be associated with better adjustment (defined as lower depression levels) among the students, whereas avoidant coping was seen to predict poorer adjustment (higher levels of depression and anxiety).” Many of Stress Less Day’s activities could be framed as active coping mechanisms. Students tye-dyed and made potpourri, taking their focus away from midterms and assignments for an afternoon.
However, not all in attendance felt that the event was helpful. It’s not uncommon for organizations to be more concerned with self promotion than the promotion of mental health. USF juniors Viola Perfetti and Jessica Mizuno said they were encouraged by the presence of medical professionals, like Dignity Health, at Stress Less Day, but maintained that the event didn’t seem “hard hitting.”
Stress Less Day provided students with positive resources on campus and beyond, as well as raised spirits. Students took home raffle prizes, Gleeson Library Zine Kits, and University Ministry prayer books. In a time of rising rates of mental illness due to academic stress, such university programs are essential.