September 20, 2020
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Breathe In, Breathe Out encourages healthy lifestyles

By Gabrielle Beacken
News Assistant

At least once a day, one should be accountable for being appreciative of oneself and one’s life, said Jennie Sekanics, a junior English literature and women’s and gender studies double major.

Students participate in yoga to improve physical and mental health. (Brendan McGeehan / Staff Photographer)
Students participate in yoga to improve physical and mental health. (Brendan McGeehan / Staff Photographer)

According to Sekanics, gratitude is a beautiful notion that should be celebrated, embraced and encouraged.

“When my resident, Sarah (Sutherland), passed last semester due to suicide, I became attuned to the efforts on campus geared toward positivity and creating a safer, more inclusive space for those who struggle,” said Sekanics, a community advisor in Wolfe. “At the core of it, this is for her and those who have ever felt like their voice wasn’t worthy or couldn’t find the words or place to speak.”

This is precisely the mission of the TCNJ Gratitude Journal Facebook page, created by Sekanics.

The Gratitude Journal is a page that “keeps a record of moments, people, places and occurrences that essentially made one’s day worth living,” Sekanics said.

“I wanted to provide a place where someone could speak without saying, ‘Hey, listen to me,’” she said.  “A place where someone could acknowledge and be acknowledged without asking, without much effort.”

Numerous clubs and organizations on campus have been sponsoring positive mindfulness such as Circle of Compassion, Humanitarian Yoga and the College’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and now the Journal is prepared to join their ranks.

“I thought about the ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ campaign and how we could become an interconnected community and help each other be grateful and more positive,” Sekanics said.

Sponsored by the College’s Healthy Campus Program Council (HCPC), the “Breathe In, Breathe Out” campus-wide, month-long challenge asks students to shift off autopilot gear, become more aware of their surroundings and increase their mental health and mindfulness while dealing with the stress.

The “Breathe In, Breathe Out” campaign is part of a national initiative of the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities, according to Carole Kenner, co-chair of the Healthy Campus Program Council and dean of the School of Nursing, Health and Exercise Science.

“I am proud to be part of this event,” Kenner said. “The ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ challenge will be fun, but also raise awareness of the need for physical and mental health and how to decrease stress.”

The HCPC consists of faculty, staff and students at the College “whose mission is to create a campus culture defined by on-going holistic health-related programs, policies and practices, focused on enhancing the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of students, faculty and staff,” according to Ashley Borders, psychology professor and leader of the “Breathe In, Breathe Out” challenge.

The HCPC decided to draw emphasis to mindfulness strategies that decrease stress and increase positive state of mind, Borders said.

“Mindfulness is unique because, in addition to reducing stress, it can also promote self-awareness, self-regulation and kindness (to oneself and others),” Borders said.

Practicing meditation, yoga and breathing techniques that sharpen your mindfulness can allow the mind to clarify personal values and increase emotional self-control in distressing predicaments, according to Borders.

Another aspect of the “Breathe In, Breathe Out” campaign is the Team Challenge element. These teams host smaller competitions that are sponsored by various clubs and organizations on campus.

“Team Challenges are crucial for both informing and motivating students, faculty and staff,” Borders said. “Team challenges allow organizations and departments to create friendly internal competitions and to tailor the challenge to their specific members.”

Though the mindfulness challenge may seem daunting to students, faculty and staff who are constantly on the go, there are simple meditative exercises to practice that will reduce stress and normalize a fast heart pace.

“It is surprisingly hard to set aside our many responsibilities for even 15 minutes a day so that we can cultivate calmness and inner peace,” Borders said.

Borders recommends to students to start noticing their breathing while working or in class because a minute or two of noticing your breathing can reduce stress. Students will still be able to pay attention to their professor, but “they may just slow down the clutter in their own minds a bit,” Borders said.

The Challenge’s website includes visualizations, guided meditations and breathing exercises that can be helpful for students with trouble falling asleep.

“One of my favorites (audio clips) is called the Lake Meditation, a lovely, 10-minute, guided imagery meditation that promotes inner calm even in the midst of a busy life,” Borders said.

“We appreciate that starting a mindfulness practice is no small feat,” Borders said. “Despite the many benefits, it is much easier said than done.”

The “Breathe In, Breathe Out” challenge, along with the Gratitude Journal, has supplemented the campus’ practicing positive mindfulness opportunities.

Sekanics posts on the Journal’s page every day for her own health and self-love and to remind herself of what she is grateful for each day.

“I would like to openly express my gratitude for the interactions I had with my resident, Sarah,” Sekanics said. “It is important to make space, to speak and to listen, to reflect and to be grateful, and I owe it to Sarah for reminding me of that fact and for inspiring me to practice mindfulness, presence and gratitude each and every day.”

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