UKrant gives Wellbeing Week a try: what works to beat stress?

Exams, classes, jobs, committees: students have a lot to be stressed about. Can beer yoga beat stress? UKrant reporter Sisi used the Wellbeing Week as an excuse to find out. ‘So far all I’m feeling is out of breath.’
By Sisi van Halsema / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Welcome Week is all about helping students ‘take steps towards a healthier study environment’. From 4 to 8 February, student party Lijst Calimero organised a week of workshops, courses, and lectures to de-stress attendees.  The initiative is now in its second year, and Calimero says this year was a success: students showed a lot of interest in the courses, they report, and ‘it’s really great that people are thinking about the subject more’.

Personally, I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t stressed out, so I could really use a couple of de-stressing workshops.  I set aside an entire day to try them all. I’m going to be so chill!

Hatha Yoga

I’m soaked to the bone from the rain when I arrive at USVA for my first workshop of the morning. Hatha yoga sounds like a mix of martial arts and yoga, but it turns out to focus on self-control: steadying your mind and your body at the same time. But it’s not as easy as it looks, and the only thing I’m feeling so far is out of breath.

I’ve tried yoga before, out of a vague conviction that it’s good for me. And sure enough, by the end of this challenging session I actually am feeling pretty relaxed. But my zen is short-lived because I have to make a mad dash to my next de-stressing task.

Mindfulness

I intend intended to attend a mindfulness workshop at the Student Service Centre, but I don’t even make it past the waiting room. The course leader refuses to let a reporter into the room, in spite of my protests that I only want to write about my personal experience. Apparently, my presence in the room could disturb the other participants.

The other students in the waiting room don’t seem particularly perturbed by me or my notepad, but making a scene won’t help anyone de-stress, so I concede. I’m bummed: I was genuinely curious about mindfulness and now I’m ruminating on the fact that I won’t get to benefit from it. If only someone would teach me how to let go of my negative thoughts.

Detox and retox

So what’s next? Beer yoga or a philosophy lecture? I pick beer yoga, because how does that even work? Isn’t yoga meant to purify your body? How does beer come into it?

‘This movement will cleanse your body’, says teacher Kelly Opel while demonstrating a complicated pose. ‘Have another sip! Detox and retox!’

Opel is dead serious, and she’s put a lot of thought into the combination between beer and yoga. She wants to show people that yoga isn’t necessarily ‘out there’ or for fancy health gurus, but that students can fit it into their busy schedules as well.

I’m not sure I’m doing all the poses right; I’m just trying not to spill my beer. But people are relaxed and having fun, and the course truly makes me forget all my troubles.

Fluffy dandelion

I barely have time to eat lunch and no time at all to change out of my yoga leggings before I’m off to the workshop ‘Training for Happiness’, presented by the Studentenkoepel voor Levensbeschouwelijke Organisaties (the umbrella organisation for religious and philosophically oriented student associations). Can you train your brain to be happy? I’m about to find out.

I find myself in a kind of living room with eight other students. On a table are several pictures – of people, of animals, and, for some reason, of hands bound together. We have to pick the photo that gives us the happiest feeling. I select a picture of a fluffy dandelion against a bright blue sky. It reminds me of how carefree I was during summer holidays.

Not a panacea

Workshop teachers Hendrik Timmer and Timo Meijlink give us a few tips we can use in our everyday lives to be happier people. Be kind to others, for example, and try to avoid worrying. When I ask how I’m supposed to do that, one of the other students pipes up: ‘Through mindfulness!’

Well, that’s just great.

At the end of this long and surprisingly stressful day, I can’t help but wonder how effective Wellbeing Week really is. I won’t say it’s useless, but doing more stuff also doesn’t seem to be the magic solution for the very real problems of study pressure and work stress. It is, however, a good way to discover tactics that can help manage all of that. Along the way I realised I’d like to be a little more flexible, so maybe I’ll take up yoga after all. But I’ve become especially curious about mindfulness.

Nederlands

12 February 2019