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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Mental Health at A&M: Solutions, Resources, and More!

Photo courtesy of Katie Satterlee

Business major Christopher Guzman ’25, Electrical engineering major Albert Nguyen ’25 and Physics major Cory Ho ’25 climb rocks at the Student Rec Center

Just as the pandemic hit, Texas A&M mechanical engineering senior Hampton Gray said he started working at the Student Recreation Center, known on campus as the Rec. Being around people who were interested in rock climbing allowed him to make friends while the world was in a state of unrest. The group would find times to meet up and climb once or twice a week, providing an outlet to de-stress, relax, take a deep breath and maintain friendships, Gray said.

Now, over two years into the pandemic, people worldwide are still experiencing stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty of what the future might hold. Almost three out of four surveyed students, 71%, reported heightened levels of anxiety and stress as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to The National Institute of Health.

A&M’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, offer various mental health resources students can access, such as counseling for specific crises, individual or group intake assessments, the My SSP app and sessions with counselors. But students may not think to use other campus resources like the Rec, The Leach Teaching Gardens, SKY Happiness and A&M’s Health Promotion, all of which can provide students with outlets for dealing with stress.

Climbing is a way to relieve stress by learning a new skill and building relationships with other students, Gray said. Gray now works as an Outdoor Adventures supervisor, and said students can use the on-campus boulder walls for free, at both the main Rec center and at the Southside Recreation Center.. At the Rec, students can participate in beginner climbing classes three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7-9 p.m. every week, all semester long, Gray said. 

“Climbing works your brain out,” Gray said. “You feel more content after you climb. It is a workout, but it’s a fun workout.”

Students connecting with other people, taking a break from school, making new friends and exploring the outdoors in a guided environment are all beneficial to their mental health, Abbey Arends, the coordinator for Outdoor Adventures, said. 

Offering about 20 trips or clinics per semester for nine to 20 students per trip, Outdoor Adventures Rental Center and Bike Hub can be found within the Rec, Arends added.

“You can always tell it’s awkward in the beginning when people are first getting to meet each other, and by the end of it, they all have inside jokes and plans to meet each other after the trip ends,” Arends said. “That helps you grow as an individual as well because you’re learning how to interact with people with different personality traits or background experiences and come out of it as friends.”

The rental center also offers custom trips for friend groups that can be organized and planned by the rental center, Arends said. The service is catered to exactly what students need, whether that means reserving the climbing wall or providing a trip out of state, Arends said. Outdoor Adventures also offers fly fishing in Aggie Park, hiking trips, backpacking adventures, river paddling, climbing clinics, kayaking opportunities and boat rental equipment from white water kayaks, to canoes, to surfboards.

“Outdoor Adventures provides the university an outlet for whatever it is people are looking for, whether that’s a mental health break or just an opportunity to learn something new or a place to meet people,” Arends said.

Self-compassion is an often forgotten but vital step in self-care, Miranda Price, a fitness and wellness assistant director at the Rec, said. Self-care looks different for everyone and can be as simple as journaling, reading, spending time outdoors or even participating in the events offered by the Rec, Price said. The Rec listens to the student body and hosts events such as De-Stress Fest in the spring during finals, International Day of Yoga, Silent at the Disco and offers services such as Aggie Wellness Coaching to help students create better wellness habits, Price said.

“We as human beings cannot keep pouring from our cup unless we replenish that cup so that we can keep giving,” Price said. “It’s a cycle we need to continue to work on because self-care is a big thing in our lives, and we need to make it more of a priority.”

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week, which could include walking, cleaning apartments or dorms or finding a fitness class at the Rec, but Price said this exercise doesn’t have to be challenging. Currently, there are three locations for on-campus recreation centers: on Polo Road, Southside and the main Rec on West Campus.

“As long as you’re a full-time student, you have a membership, so you can go to whatever one is most convenient for you on that day,” Price said.

The sounds of birds chirping, bees buzzing, the water in the creek, the sight of trees and flowers and touching grass are all de-stressors, Education and Outreach Coordinator Kat Grier said. The Leach Teaching Gardens, located on West Campus, is a protected green space students at A&M can access, Grier said. When green spaces are located next to schools, they improve the cognitive development, mood and attention of those who attend, according to the American Psychological Association. 

As a land-grant university, A&M is dedicated to service and to the land, which allows The Gardens to thrive and provide educational and volunteer opportunities for students, Grier said.

“Spending 15 to 30 minutes outside can help with focus as a natural remedy for young kids and college students,” Grier said.

Through the global organization SKY Happiness, students can meet at least once a week for an event designed to help relieve stress and anxiety by increasing energy levels, Rishabh Singla, president of SKY Happiness, said. Through guided yoga sessions, meditation and breathing techniques, anyone can increase their energy levels, Singla said. Higher energy levels lead to positive emotions, contentless, awareness and happiness for students to take on challenges and be more productive, Singla said. 

“There are four major ways we can increase our energy,” Singla said. “One is food, another is sleep, third is breath. When you breathe in, it energizes your body. Last is a calm state of mind. When you do something with a happy state of mind, you don’t get tired, which can be easily learned with meditation.”

Research shows that yoga helps relieve stress and improve wellness by alleviating depression and anxiety caused by difficult situations in life, such as the pandemic, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

There is a big stigma attached to mental wellness and seeking out help for mental health, Rhonda Rahn, a clinical associate professor in the School of Public Health, said. People are afraid to say they visit a therapist, but people go to the doctor for their heart and lungs, noted Rahn. The brain is just another organ in the body that needs help, and most mental health issues are not permanent and can be helped, Rahn said. Resources on campus such as CAPS, Disability Resources and the Academic Success Center can help students manage stress.

“Do not be afraid to seek help,” Rahn said. “When you ask for help, that makes you strong because you’re willing to recognize in your own self when you need that help. Instead of hiding from the help that you need, you’re asking for assistance.”

There are eight dimensions of wellness that inform a person’s overall health and quality of life, health promotion specialist Suzanne Swierc said. They are intellectual, environmental, occupational, emotional, spiritual, financial, social and physical; and when the foundation is unstable, then everything else is affected, Swierc said. Data shows that sleep is one of the first things students sacrifice while they take care of everything else in their lives. Swierc said that sleep is what makes sure that those other dimensions of wellness happen.

“Sleep is one of the easier things to start working on more immediately,” Swierc said. “One of the things I tell students who struggle with sleep is if you go to bed at 11 p.m. but you’re not going to sleep till 1 a.m., make 1 a.m. your bedtime and do something else with those hours. Do something that gives you joy.”

According to their website, CAPS offers students free mental health resources such as individual or group counseling, workshops and access to the app, My SSP. My SSP is free and provides all-day access to counseling sessions, virtual fitness sessions and the ability to chat with professionals, as well as reading content users can view such as infographics, podcasts, videos and articles to learn more about how to help their mental wellbeing, according to the app.
Katie Satterlee is an English senior and contributed this piece from the course Journalism 203: Media Writing I to The Battalion. 

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