Beyond Awareness: How health professionals say mindfulness can be a year-long practice

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, campus therapists and dietitians are urging students to build healthy, and lasting, habits.


Courtesy of UA Health Promotion and Wellness

Claire Yates, Contributing Writer

A yearlong pandemic, combined with the everyday stressors of college life, has taken a toll on some students. But a month full of mental health programming has made a springtime slump easier to manage, some say.

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, campus therapists and dietitians are urging students to build healthy, and lasting, habits.

“[Their resources] have helped me to take a step back from the craziness of life and remember that I am enough,” said Jaden Thomley, a sophomore majoring in public relations.

To further emphasize the importance of mindfulness during National Mental Health Awareness Month in March, The University of Alabama’s Health and Wellness Promotion department also dedicated a week to helping students strengthen their mental health, attitudes and mindsets. 

While creating copious events and opportunities for students to better themselves and be mindful of their mental health, the UA Health Promotion and Wellness Department and Counseling Center have also worked to promote year-round programming. 

One of the many programs the University had to offer was “Mindful or Mind Full? A Guide to Mindful Eating,” a zoom presentation on March 19 about the concept and benefits of mindful eating led by Sheena Gregg, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. 

During the presentation, Gregg created a healthy meal of berries and other nutrient-rich ingredients in front of a camera. The participants that attended the Zoom presentation were able to practice mindful eating with the food right in front of them. 

“The goal of the presentation was to share the benefits of mindful eating and encourage students to practice mindful eating when possible to have a better sense of awareness with hunger and fullness cues as well as overall body satisfaction,” Gregg said. 

Gregg said research shows that “having mindfulness in various behaviors, such as eating, can lead to mindfulness in academic behaviors and better performance in the classroom.”

Gregg added that many students found the mindful eating exercise beneficial and told her that they would continue to use their knowledge from the presentation when eating other meals and snacks.

Other events hosted by the health promotion and wellness department included adulting presentations, a brown bag series, yoga and meditation classes and a student health fair

Greg Vander Wal, the executive director of the University’s counseling center, said mindfulness shouldn’t just be a week-long practice. Rather, he said, caring for mental health should be a year-round practice. 

The goal of the counseling center is to support students and help them reach their educational goals and achieve personal growth all year long. 

Alongside Mindfulness Week, Vander Wal said the counseling center dedicates many weeks out of the year to focus on some things that students may struggle with. These weeks of programming feature topics that range from suicide prevention to body appreciation and highlight important qualities of the human condition. 

During March, the counseling center provided a variety of trainings across campus regarding different mental health issues, like stress. Vander Wal said stress is a part of life and a part of college, especially with students in new environments. 

To eliminate stress, Vander Wal encourages students to engage in self care by eating well, exercising or sleeping well. The counseling center always encourages students to do what’s best for them, but especially during Mindfulness Week. 

“We need to focus on the things we have control over,” Vander Wal said. “Sometimes we can really get ourselves in a tough spot when we’re trying desperately to change something we don’t have any control over changing.” 

Vander Wal said another way to relieve stress is to plan steps in order to solve an issue. Even if it is something someone can’t control, they can still control their perspective on it. In order to do that, Vander Wal said students need to ask themselves questions to see if what is being done is actually working positively within them.  

The UA Health Promotion and Wellness Department has an Instagram account for health and wellness information. The account also included Mindfulness Week event information, and continues to include information that could help some students mentally. 

From the account, Thomley said she’s realized that it is okay to take a break and take care of herself rather than focusing on trying to have the “perfect lifestyle.” She said it is important for her to check-up on herself, especially in times of struggle.

“I often get caught up in negative thoughts because of the pandemic, but I rely on myself and certain social media posts to help me through it,” Thomley said.