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Yale Study Finds Breathing Exercises Can Help Students Manage Mental Stress

Recently, a new study conducted by researchers at Yale University suggests that students can learn to manage stress and anxiety effectively when taught specific strategies including breathing exercises and emotional intelligence strategies that can also help with the rise of mental health disorders in the coronavirus pandemic.

In the study, whose findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry’s July edition, the team of researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI) and the Yale Child Study Center analyzed classroom-based programs that can help students reduce stress and help in the prevention of various mental health issues.

To do so, a group of one hundred and thirty-five young adults enrolled in undergraduate programs in colleges were examined for a period of eight weeks. All of these participants were also a part of three wellness and emotional intelligence initiatives.

The results from this group of undergraduate students were then also compared with another group that did not participants in any wellness programs to check the results.

After the study time period, the researchers found that students who participated in the Art of Living Foundation’s program known as  SKY Campus Happiness had improvements in their stress management abilities and had better mental health overall.

The SKY Campus Happiness program taught a wide range of techniques ranging from yoga poses, meditation, and breathing to social engagement activities. Students who participated in it were noted to have fewer depressive episodes, controlled anxiety, better social skills, and well-being.

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In addition, the program had an overall positive impact and made the majority of the participants care more about mindfulness and mental well-being.

The second program from the YCEI, called Foundations of Emotional Intelligence was also seen to have a positive impact on the students. However, it was not as effective as the SKY Campus Happiness initiative that had strategies like breathing exercises. The third program, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, did not have any significant effect on any of the areas of mental well being.

These findings are important as they show how mindfulness programs can benefit the students in various ways when specific techniques are taught. At the moment, there is a need for further research on the improvement of mental health in students as mental health disorders have risen at an alarming rate in the past few years.

Now, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is likely to worsen the situation. Mental health experts have suggested the crisis is likely to follow by another epidemic related to mental health due to the rise of economic uncertainty, unemployment as well as social isolation, and limited social contact.

In such a time, college counseling services are simply not sufficient to cater to the need of the big number of students that require therapy and professional help. The first co-author of the study, Christina Bradley, says that the introduction of wellness programs can lower the burden on counseling services in college and also teach students strategies that can help them manage stress and mental health later in life.

Wellness programs that teach resiliency tools such as breathing exercises can be more beneficial than simply increasing staff in counseling services says Emma Seppälä, who is the faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at Yale School of Management and leading author of the study.

Secondly, it is also more feasible and cheaper. Colleges and schools should consider familiarizing students with such programs as it can help them with mental health problems and eventually also improve their academic results.