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College Students Are More Stressed Than Ever. Some Schools Think Yoga Is the Answer

To support students' mental health, savvy colleges are building wellness programs with yoga studios, salt rooms, meditation spaces, and more.

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College students are back on campus. But for some, it’s not all pizza night, keg parties, and hanging out with friends. Once the excitement of move-in day winds down, many students face mental-health challenges—anxiety, depression, and chronic emotional stress.

A recent study from Boston University found that depression, anxiety, and loneliness is rampant among college students. In the survey of 33,000 undergrads, more than 80 percent said their mental health had negatively impacted their academic performance. Two-thirds said they feel lonely and isolated. Students are also stressed out about relationships and roommate issues, families that pile on too much pressure or not enough support, finances, and the outlook for their future.

Every college has a counseling center, but some universities are stepping up their game by adding wellness programs that encourage mindfulness practices.

See also: What Is Mindfulness, Really?

Spa-like services (and a dog, of course)

Take the new Well-Being Center at the University of Richmond. The state-of-the-art space offers spa-like amenities on campus. Heather Sadowski, MPH, U of R’s director of health promotion, says their programs focus on five areas of wellness—exercise, nutrition, self-care, mindfulness, and sleep.

Students can take yoga classes in the light-filled mind-body studio, or do a walking meditation along the stone labyrinth. For deep relaxation, there’s a salt therapy room lined with Himalayan salt crystals, and a sensory lounge with massage chairs and sleep pods. Guest chefs and dietitians use the demonstration kitchen for healthy cooking classes. The adjacent café serves organic meals.

White labradoodle, Emmett, wears teal harness against green grass at University of Richmond
Emmett. (Courtesy of University of Richmond)

And if all else fails, U of R students can always turn to Emmett. 

The three-year-old labradoodle is the center’s therapy dog. Trained to offer “calm companionship to reduce stress and anxiety, and to relieve loneliness,” Sadowski says. “Emmett is our most popular feature.” 

It’s not all pups and pranayama. The center offers counseling and psychological services, as well as mental health first-aid training to help students recognize signs of distress in themselves and others. 

See also: How Yoga Helped My Mental Health

Colleges get on board with wellness

University of Richmond’s wellness center is not the first or only college to invest in mindfulness spaces for students. New York University’s MindfulNYU programs include up to five yoga sessions daily, as well as guided meditation sessions morning, noon, and night.

At Notre Dame’s McDonald Center for Student Well-Being—a.k.a. McWell—students can participate in “Recess” sessions that include midday yoga on the quad. If they need a getaway, they can book time in one of several cozy, private rooms. For example, they can curl up in The Fort, a room full of plants, to listen to nature sounds and meditate or take a nap.

Colleges offering yoga and wellness programs aren’t just providing cushy perks. Research shows that “yoga has positive effects on a psychophysiological level that leads to decreased levels of stress in college students.” Which means that squeezing in a different type of class—a yoga class—among students’ academics is well worth the commitment.

See also: How Mental Health Professionals Use Yoga to Stay Sane