There are plenty of opportunities for college students to become overwhelmed — a make or break exam or paper, first day of clinicals for students in a health professions program or the year end recital for those in the performing arts.
At 9:15 a.m. Monday through Thursday, students, staff and faculty can drop by the lobby of the Mary Alice Marshall Performing Arts Center and experience a guided meditation with others who show up for a quiet break in the morning before the hectic day begins.
The mediation is a result of a study — The Effects of Guided Meditation or Peer Support in Stress Levels on Music Majors. The study was authored by Sara Baker, chairman of the Temple College Performing Arts Department, and Katherine “Kat" Buckler, a TC and Texas A&M University-Central Texas music major.
Most of the individuals who show up for the meditation are music majors, however, Brandon Van Winkle, a general studies major, has been participating in the sessions on most Tuesday and Thursdays.
“This is my last semester for my associate degree,” Van Winkle said.
The meditation is a good way to start the day, he said. It reduces stress and kind of calms me down.
Van Winkle had just completed a project for his Texas government class on Monday and said he felt certain the meditation on Tuesday would be helpful.
“Doing this helps me relax and focus,” he said.
“I think our faculty does a good job of preparing for student performances,” said Baker. “I’ve been here six years. I’ve never seen anyone completely melt down.”
It never hurts to consider alternative exercises for dealing with stressful times.
Buckler, soon-to-be graduate of Texas A&M-Central Texas with a bachelor’s degree in music, decided to consider the consequences of stress on her fellow students for a class assignment.
Buckler said it’s normal for music majors to break down from stress and she wanted to know why.
This inquiry started off as a research project for a class, Buckler explained. It looked at the stress levels students were experiencing, the effect of the stress, and what was causing the stress. There was no shortage of subjects.
The first question Buckler received after presenting the study to her class was what she was going to do with the information to alleviate the problem.
Buckler said she became stressed and she noticed it in her friends who were also music majors.
“I thought if there’s a problem, why don’t we fix it?” she asked. “After doing the research, I don’t think stress should be the norm. Students shouldn’t go into a music program and expect to have a breakdown. It’s detrimental to their work inside and outside the class.”
Buckler teamed with Baker to do the formal study.
The great thing about the study is that it’s teaching students the skills they need to avoid stress, Buckler said.
The guided meditation is now a thing and will continue to be offered, with other departments invited to participate.
Peer support is ongoing with students meeting in the morning and talking about their stress issues.
“The peer support is particularly helpful when higher level students meet with the newer students and offered advice and insight,” Buckler said.
Baker handled the meditation mindfulness group.
“We used the application Headspace to broadcast the 10-minute meditations to the students from 9:15 to 9:25 a.m. Monday through Thursday in the lobby of the performing arts center,” Baker said.
The stress levels of the students decreased significantly at school and at home, she said.
“Teachers can do a lot of things to help students on campus, to be able to give them a tool that can affect change at home is exciting,” Baker said.
A goal is to encourage faculty to consider mindfulness and meditation as part of education.
Baker was already looking at mindfulness in music education.
“The department of music is working toward recruiting, retaining and graduating our students,” she said. “We’re trying to make it as streamlined as we can. We want to get them in here, we want them to be happy and earn that degree and move on to their next big thing.”
Through Buckler’s initial study, some retention issues were uncovered and needed to be addressed, Baker said. If students are stressed out and can’t overcome the stress, they won’t be able to complete the degree.
Buckler said it’s not unusual for music students to get to school early to practice. They then have classes and squeeze in more practice and lunch. They return to campus in the evening to practice in their ensembles.
“There were students who were going home to take care of siblings and students who had full-time jobs because they couldn’t pay for their books or they may not have money for food,” Buckler said.
Buckler is one of three music majors who went from TC to Texas A&M-Central Texas to get their bachelor’s degree in music. All three are graduating with honors, she said. She will be heading to Texas State University in San Marcus to get a master’s degree in music theory.
In May 2016, TC and A&M-Central Texas signed an understanding that Texas A&M-Central Texas would offer a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a music emphasis. The bachelor’s degree in music came later.
Buckler said she will continue to do research on burn out when she gets to Texas State.
Long-term stress that’s goes untreated will result in burn out and most students who experience burn out will drop out of school.
“It’s so much easier to prevent it than to deal with it,” she said.
Many think burn out is emotional and psychological. It’s also physical and studies have shown the neurons in the brain get over saturated during stress, making it difficult to learn new information, which results in frustration and self doubt, Buckler said.
“It’s a self-defeating cycle that chews you up,” she said.
Buckler said she has experienced the cycle and is now working her way out of it.
Baker and Buckler gave a presentation on their meditation study to the TC board at its March meeting.
“Kat was the driving force behind this study. I want to give her all the credit,” Baker said. “She is the most intellectually curious person that I have ever met.”