As Spring 2022 draws to a close, Ithaca College departments and organizations are preparing for the campus’ Stop and Breathe Week April 30-May 6.
Stop and Breathe Week is a week-long initiative that promotes stress-relief events to calm students down before their final exams. The JED Campus Outreach Committee compiles a list of events hosted by organizations and clubs that support student spiritual wellbeing.
Brittany Watros is an Administrative Assistant in the Office of Student Engagement and Chair of the JED Campus Initiative’s Student Engagement and Outreach Committee. said Wattros that While JED came to the college in 2020, the Stop and Breathe Week initiative did not begin until fall 2021. At the end of the fall semester, the college experienced a COVID-19 outbreak that caused the COVID-19 operational status to switch from green to yellowand finally orange alarm status. All planned face-to-face meetings took place canceledincluding in-person stop-and-breathe week events.
“We’ve found that many amazing things often happen on campus in the week leading up to final exams, which is a very urgent time,” Watros said. “It’s often just that the students may not know that all these things are happening and that they can witness them. So we decided to sit down and review all the offerings and find a way to present them more consistently across campus.”
Sophomore Alexa Tamis said seniors week has always been a stressful time throughout her college career, as her workload often increases and she sometimes has multiple finals in one day.
Tamis said that she believes student mental health should be a campus community effort.
“I think more money needs to be put into the student well–to be and reach out to the students and show they care,” Tamis said. “I think maybe that’s a job that professors should do, too. Some people will say that’s not the job of professors, that it’s just to teach, but I think since COVID and we’ve seen how difficult times are, I think that needs to be integrated.”
Watros said the JED campus initiative student engagement and outreach committee is working on additional training for faculty and staff to provide additional support to students and identify those who are struggling.
The Ithaca College Library hosts regular stress relief activities for the campus community.
Cathy Michael, communications librarian at the college library, said she works with her colleagues to create stress-relief events for students. Michael said these initiatives started organically.
“One student at the lending desk liked to paint, and then we started putting out coloring pages,” Michael said. “Next thing you know Ben [Hogben] came up with the idea for assisted pet therapy, and then it just started to grow and grow a bit [the library] started having more and more activities.”
Michael said that the library’s most popular recreational activities are usually the Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). The library has been conducting AAA events since 2014. In spring 2019, the College Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and SServices began co-sponsoring animal-assisted activities with the library.
AAAs use animals in recreational and visitation programs. These programs have been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, lower blood pressure, and improve mood and overall well-being, according to the library site.
A therapy lamaLate-for-Breakfast, was brought to college during final exam week in Fall 2018. Late–to the–Breakfast continued to be attended in college until the pandemic paused the AAAs.
The events are coordinated by Cornell companiona pet–Visiting program with the desire to develop the bond between humans and animals. While Cornell Companions paused its program due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are beginning to hold events again, and Ithaca College is working to host an event with them this spring semester.
Brian Petersen, director of the Center for Counseling, Health and Wellness, said it should be an effort by the entire campus community to help students deal with stress.
“Whether they’re bringing puppies to the library or a llama to The Commons, whatever it is, every office on campus should understand the rhythm of stress that occurs throughout the year,” said Petersen.
Petersen said this “stress rhythm” is typical of any academic school year, and the Center for Counseling and Mental Health Services will see an influx of patients during midterm and final exams.
“Unfortunately, the midterm-finals model puts all this pressure on two specific projects or tests,” Petersen said. “And there, I think fear is a normal reaction to that.”
In a survey by american addiction centers, 88% of college students said their school life was stressful, and 89% of those students said exams were the biggest cause of stress.
Michael said it’s important that the library supports its students, especially because it’s a central location on campus.
“We staff want to make sure all students know that we support their efforts and endeavors and want them to be successful,” said Michael. “And if anything, that’s it [de-stress events] at least it is a sign of support.”
In addition to departments like the lLibrary and LGBT center, many students also work to host stress relief events through clubs or jobs such as working as Resident Assistants (RA).
Mikayla Tolliver sophomore has been working as an RA since Fall 2021 and often hosts stress relief events for her residents. In the coming weeks, Tolliver is planning events like “Cupcakes and de–Stress” where residents can eat a cupcake and relax in a stress-free environment.
“We all have busy lives where we’re always doing something — it’s important to take our time, do nothing and relax,” Tolliver said. “We all deserve a break from our busy lives.”
Senior Madeline Thomas is the President for IC after darkone on–Campus Club, which offers free late-night programs that improve student quality‘ lives through immersive entertainment experiences.
Thomas said because all of the club’s members are college students, they can understand the stress others feel during the school year.
“We know how important it is to take time to de-stress and we want to share that with other students,” Thomas said. “While not specifically marketed as an anti-stress event, I think many of our events fit into that category.”
Thomas said the club is currently planning its closing event of the semester, taking into account how the students will feel during the final exams.
Petersen said it’s important for students to remember that stress is a normal response to what they’re experiencing and that stress isn’t always a bad thing.
“The goal isn’t to take the stress out of college,” Petersen said. “The goal is to help people realize that they can control their response to stress and when they’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry, frustrated, or sad. There are things that can be done to make it better.”