A new study from Yale University demonstrates the powerful mental health benefits of resilience training, such as meditation and breathing exercises. When college students were taught specific techniques for managing stress and anxiety, their perceived sense of well-being was found to improve dramatically.
The research was focused on the outcomes of three classroom-based wellness training programs that incorporate breathing and emotional resilience strategies.
The most effective program was found to help students in six specific areas related to mental health, including a better sense of social connectedness and reduced feelings of depression.
The researchers said that resilience training programs could be a valuable tool for addressing the mental health crisis on university campuses.
Study lead author Emma Seppälä is the faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at Yale School of Management.
“In addition to academic skills, we need to teach students how to live a balanced life,” said Seppälä. “Student mental health has been on the decline over the last 10 years, and with the pandemic and racial tensions, things have only gotten worse.”
The research was conducted by experts at the Yale Child Study Center and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI). The team evaluated three training programs that involved 135 undergraduate students over the course of eight weeks. The outcomes were compared to the self-reported well-being of a control group that did not engage in resilience training.
The study revealed that a program called SKY Campus Happiness was the most beneficial to mental health.
Developed by the Art of Living Foundation, the SKY program is centered around a meditative breathing technique and incorporates yoga postures, social connection, and service activities.
After completing the SKY sessions, students reported improvements in six areas of well-being: depression, stress, mental health, mindfulness, positive affect, and social connectedness.
The second program was found to boost the participants’ ability to enjoy the moment through greater mindfulness, while the third program yielded no significant improvements.
In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the demand for mental health services on college campuses, largely due to a rise in depression and anxiety. The number of college students seeking counseling jumped by 30 percent from 2009 to 2014.
Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of counseling center directors indicated that their resources are insufficient to meet the needs of the students. The researchers believe that resilience training tools can directly address the overburdening of campus counseling centers.
“Students learn tools they can use for the rest of their lives to continue to improve and maintain their mental health,” said study co-first author Christina Bradley.
The training sessions were conducted in person, but the courses can also be taken remotely.
“Continually adding staff to counseling and psychiatric services to meet demand is not financially sustainable – and universities are realizing this,” said Seppälä. “Evidence-based resiliency programs can help students help themselves.”
Davornne Lindo, a member of the Yale track team who participated in the SKY Campus Happiness program, said practicing breathing techniques helped her to manage stress from both academics and athletics.
“Now that I have these techniques to help me, I would say that my mentality is a lot healthier,” said Lindo. “I can devote time to studying and not melting down. Races have gone better. Times are dropping.”
Anna Wilkinson was also a participant in the SKY program. She said she was not familiar with the positive benefits of breathing exercises before the training, but now uses the technique regularly.
“I didn’t realize how much of it was physiology, how you control the things inside you with breathing,” said Wilkinson. “I come out of breathing and meditation as a happier, more balanced person, which is something I did not expect at all.”
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.