Koru – How mindfulness can help college students manage stress

Koru Mindfulness, is a program designed to give college students the tools they need to help manage stress. It can also be looked at as a tool for college campuses to help reduce stress on their student health centers and mental health resources.

The only MBSR specifically for college students

The college years are some of the most tumultuous and formative in a person’s life. In addition to pursuing their education, students are searching to find out who they are and what they want from life. They feel pressure to compete with their peers, please their parents, and find a major that will lead to a successful career. Unfortunately, while focusing on their academics, many students neglect their mental health.

This is lack of focus is what brought together Duke University psychiatrists Holly Rogers, Margaret Maytan, and clinical social worker Lilly Webb to develop Koru. A mindfulness curriculum just for college students. Koru is the New Zealand Maori word for an unfurling fern frond, whose spiral shape represents balanced growth.

Mindfulness roots

Mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhism. However, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) wasn’t developed until 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Stress Reduction Clinic.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn has devoted his career to focusing on mind-body interactions for healing, stress reduction and to boost the immune system. His extensive research and publications provide evidence that mindfulness can help practitioners cope and adapt to the demands of modern-day life.

The positive impacts of Mindfulness are well documented. In fact, our Chief Medical Office, Dr. Barrie Baker, has experienced first-hand the benefits of Mindfulness. “Mindfulness helps you to become more aware and feel in control of how stress affects you. For me, it has helped with reductions in stress, better focus, and improved sleep.”

Although, she says that it’s something you need to commit to and practice, Dr. Baker believes that it’s a perfect solution. “Many of us feel like we don’t have control over what is going on but focusing in the moment and leveraging Mindfulness techniques can be a great step in getting that control back.”

A lifetime skill to manage stress

Koru is a form of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and involves an eight-week program that teaches mindfulness skills, along with meditation practices. Koru Mindfulness splits this eight-week program into separate four-week sections to make it more accessible to college students. The first half incorporates techniques like belly and dynamic breathing, body scan and walking meditation. The second half involves chair yoga and silent meditation.

The courses are centered on practical skills that students can use to manage stress and hone their focus. The beginner Koru class is four weekly classes, lasting 75 minutes each. The students are asked to dedicate 10 minutes a day to practicing mindfulness, in addition to keeping a journal. Students learn breathing exercises, guided meditations, and visualization techniques.

Koru is meant to be an introduction to a practice that will serve students throughout college, and the rest of their life. By training themselves to tune into the present, Koru helps students learn self-compassion and non-judgmental thought processes.

The program helps promote overall mental health and wellbeing by teaching students to focus only on what is right in front of them. The goal of mindfulness is to stay completely in the present and aware of ones’ emotions and thoughts. By doing this, students gain valuable self-insights and are better able to manage the intense pressure of their emerging adulthood.

One study found that Koru participants saw a significant increase in sleep quality and a noticeable reduction in stress. Koru has also been linked to improved focus and increased academic performance.

Mindfulness to help overcome strain on services

Students have many demands on their energy and time. Problems can seem overwhelming and all-consuming. Let’s face it, it’s easy to develop stress in a typical college setting, let alone amid a pandemic.

Demand for mental health services at college counseling centers in the United States has been on the rise for years. According to the 2019 Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) Annual Survey, nearly 90 percent of counseling center directors reported an increase in students seeking services.

In 2020, the same group saw a dramatic increase in the utilization of mental telehealth services, due to in-person limitations created by the COVID-19 pandemic. They reported an increased utilization of mental telehealth services by a staggering 6,811 percent!

Koru mindfulness is a program that can be implemented on college campuses to help the student population manage stress. Especially because of the increased need in services post-pandemic and the limitations of available resources. It can also help staff fight regular and “Zoom fatigue” from back-to-back counseling sessions.

While resources may be thin at some campuses, Wellfleet is continuing to provide access to resources for our members. Visit our Complete Behavioral Solutions page to see how we’re providing solutions to problems faced by students and client administrators. For more information on Koru, visit the center for Koru mindfulness.

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