Mind Your Mental Wellness

We keep track of deadlines. We are aware of when our assignments are due, how we have to prepare for meetings, and at what time we have make different appointments. But, in the midst of this constant frenzy, we forget to focus on our state of mindfulness - on our mental health.

At the 2017 Global Wellness Summit, global economist Thierry Malleret claimed that although the U.S. has had recent economic growth, people are still succumbing to sources of mental instability. According to Mental Health America, in 2017, 1 in 5 adults had a mental health condition, which totals to 40 million Americans. These statistics pose a serious problem for our ever-growing society, as mental health certainly influences the way people think, feel, and behave.

Our pursuit of mental wellness originated in the decades following the Second World War, according to Psychology Today. Many psychiatrists recognized the emergence of socioeconomic inequality and were compelled to raise awareness about the numerous mental effects they noticed in people suffering from its impact.

The emphasis on mental wellness has only grown from then.

Social entrepreneurs have taken initiatives to improve the mental wellness in their communities. For example, The DEN Meditation in Los Angeles and Just Meditate in Bethesda has made meditation a permeable practice to the general public by having “drop-in and meditate” sessions. Ranging from Qigong to Chakra, The DEN offers 36 different types of meditation classes.

Just Meditate strives to “demystify” the practice of meditation to the general public. The studio even has a Just Learning class, solely dedicated to answering questions about meditation and its purpose.

Meditation goes beyond the workout studio. According to 2017 Wellness Trends from Global Wellness Summit, Euromonitor International has discovered the trend of “mindfulness safaris” across Africa. Based in the Netherlands, Mindful Adventure is an example of a safari company that believes in the power of this activity. The company strives to bring people together by giving “sincere attention” to the distinct tribes, flora and fauna, and towns of East Africa. By the end of each journey, the company claims that its participants will know and be familiar with a variety of yoga practices.

Wellness devices are adding a digital dimension to practicing mindfulness. Fitbit watches have allowed customers to track their heart rates and the number of calories they burn. While Fitbit does not focus solely on meditation, its function as an activity tracker motivates its users to eat better, sleep longer, and be more active to achieve their fitness goals. The company has recently launched its Fitbit coach program, the Fitbit Aria 2 scale, and wireless headphones to supplement their consumers’ experiences. For 2018, Fitbit is releasing a watch called Fitbit ionic with Adidas to compete with the Apple Watch and Nike collaboration.

The intersection between technology and mindfulness doesn’t stop at products; apps have become an emerging market to share mental health practices. The app SuperBetter serves as an example. It was developed by game designer Jane McGonigal while she was suffering from a severe concussion; she used it as a way to channel strength and afterwards sought to share this source of empowerment with others. The app focuses on the development of mental, emotional, social, and physical resilience through the completion of quests. A user clarifies his or her goal before receiving a “power pack”, which contains quests, “bad guys”, and activities that a SuperBetter user combats to become “SuperBetter”. SuperBetter claims that it has aided about half a million people in accomplishing their mental health goals.

On campus, Princeton University has collaborated with the app Calm to provide their students with complimentary access to the app’s mindfulness programs. Calm’s collaboration with universities across the nation is called the Calm College Initiative; whether it is browsing nature photos or listening to sleep stories, the initiative emphasizes the importance of meditating, breathing, sleeping, and relaxing for college students.

Meditation at Princeton takes another form: free weekly yoga classes. As of this year, Princeton has gifted students with free yoga classes at Dillon Gym. These classes stemmed from the Yoga Club’s initiative to increase awareness about the benefits of yoga to the Princeton community. The organization’s president Arnav Joshi recalls that the club wanted to share not only the cultural and historical significance of yoga but also its ability to be a source of spiritual exploration and mental relaxation. The Princeton Yoga Club did not want cost to be a barrier for exploring these health benefits.

This initiative has been a springboard for the Yoga Council, a university body, to create the Masters Lecture Series, which invites yogi experts to share their wisdom on yoga and meditation practices. The Office of Religious Life has also responded to the Yoga Council’s initiative by planning a Yoga Immersion trip to India so that people can learn about its cultural roots.

According to Princeton University Coordinator of Recreational Programming Kara Nitti, her and her colleagues have noticed an increase in students participating in yoga now that there are complementary offerings. The Campus Recreation Surveys have concluded that students perceive these complimentary yoga classes as ways to relieve stress, exercise, and become more mindful (although it is important to mention that Nitti notes the difficulty of pinpointing how much yoga class participation increased based on an interest of the upperclassmen or of all undergraduate students).

The chaos of people’s schedules should not prevent them from understanding their state of mind. Everyone can make an effort to mind their mental wellness, even if it’s just a glance at a Fitbit watch.