As Spring 2022 comes to an end Ithaca College’s departments and organizations are preparing for the campus’ Stop and Breathe Week, April 30 to May 6.
Stop and Breathe Week is a week-long initiative that promotes de-stress events to calm students before their finals. The JED campus outreach committee compiles a list of events thrown by organizations and clubs that support students’ mental wellness.
Brittany Watros is the administrative assistant in the Office of Student Engagement and the chair of the JED campus initiative’s student engagement and outreach committee. Watros said 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 which caused the COVID-19 operational status to switch from green to yellow, and eventually orange alert status. All scheduled in-person gatherings were canceled, including in-person Stop and Breathe week events.
“We realized that there are often a lot of amazing things happening on campus the week before finals, a very high-need time,” Watros said. “It’s often just that students may not realize all these things are happening and they are able to attend them. So, we decided to sit down and look at everything offered and find a way to present them to campus in a more unified fashion.”
Sophomore Alexa Tamis said finals week has consistently been a stressful time throughout her college career because her workload often increases and at times she has multiple finals in one day.
Tamis said she feels that students’ mental health should be a campus community effort.
“I think more money needs to be put into students’ well–being and reaching out to students and showing that they care,” Tamis said. “I think maybe that’s a job that also professors need to start taking on. 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 start being integrated.”
Watros said the JED campus initiative’s student engagement and outreach committee is working on additional training for faculty and staff to help give extra support to students and identify those who are struggling.
The Ithaca College Library consistently holds de-stress activities for the campus community.
Cathy Michael, communications librarian in the college’s library, said she, along with her coworkers, work together to create de-stress events for students. Michael said these initiatives started organically.
“A student at the circulation desk liked coloring, and then we started putting out coloring pages,” Michael said. “The next thing you know, Ben [Hogben] came up with the idea for assisted pet therapy, and then it started to grow a bit and [the library] started to have more and more activities.”
Michael said the most popular of the library’s de-stress events are usually the animal assisted activities (AAA). The library has been implementing AAA events since 2014. In Spring 2019, the college’s Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services began to co-sponsor the animal assisted activities with the library.
AAAs use animals in recreational and visitation programs. These programs have proven to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, lower blood pressure and improve moods and overall well-being, according to the library’s webpage.
A therapy llama, Late-for-Breakfast, was brought to the college during the finals exam week of Fall 2018. Late–for–Breakfast continued to visit the college until the pandemic paused AAAs.
The events are coordinated through Cornell Companions, a pet–visitation program with the desire to develop the human and animal bond. While Cornell Companions paused its program for the COVID-19 pandemic, they are beginning to hold events again and Ithaca College is working to hold an event with them during this spring semester.
Brian Petersen, director in the Center for Counseling, Health and Wellness, said it should be an entire campus community effort to help students deal with stress.
“Whether they bring puppies into the library, or a llama on The Commons, whatever it is, every office on campus should understand the rhythm of stress that sort of happens throughout the year,” Petersen said.
Petersen said this “rhythm of stress” is typical to each academic school year and Center for Counseling and Psychiatric Services will experience an influx of patients during midterms and finals.
“Unfortunately, the midterm-finals model puts all this pressure on two specific projects or tests,” Petersen said. “And there, I think, anxiety is a normal response to it.”
In a survey conducted by the American Addiction Centers, 88% of college students reported their school life to be stressful and 89% of these students said exams were the biggest cause of stress.
Michael said it is important for the library to be supporting its students, especially because it is a central location on campus.
“Those of us on staff, we want to make sure that all the students know that we support their efforts and endeavors and want them to succeed,” Michael said. “And if anything, it’s [de-stress events] in the least, it’s a show of support.”
Besides departments like the library and LGBT Center, many students work to hold de-stress events too, through clubs or jobs, like working as resident assistants (RA).
Sophomore Mikayla Tolliver has worked as an RA since Fall 2021 and often holds de-stress events for her residents. In the coming weeks Tolliver plans to hold 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 time to do nothing and relax,” Tolliver said. “We all deserve a break from our busy lives.”
Senior Madeline Thomas is the president for IC After Dark, an on–campus club that provides free late night programs that improve the quality of students’ lives through immersive entertainment experiences.
Thomas said because all members of the club are college students, they are able to relate to the stress others are feeling throughout the school year.
“We realize the importance of taking time to de-stress and we want to share that with other students,” Thomas said. “Even if they are not specifically marketed as a de-stress event, I feel like a lot of our events can fit into that category.”
Thomas said the club is currently planning their final event of the semester and are taking into consideration how students will be feeling during finals.
Petersen said it is important for students to remember that stress is a normal reaction to what they are facing, and that stress is not always a bad thing.
“The goal isn’t to remove stress from college,” Petersen said. “The goal is to help people realize that they can gain control over their reaction to stress, and if they are feeling anxious, or depressed, or angry, or frustrated or sad. There are things that can be done to make it better.”