Stress-reduction RSOs preach mental and social health

By Yvon Streacker, Staff Writer

After a long winter break, students are often stressed by the overwhelming pressures of balancing school with social and extracurricular commitments. Fortunately, there are many stress-reduction efforts and techniques, like meditation, RSOs are practicing and sharing with the campus population.

On Friday evenings at the Illini Union, a group of students ranging from undergraduate students to doctoral candidates gather to practice mindfulness and yoga. SKY at UIUC, formerly known as YesPlus, meets weekly, and members say practicing together has improved their academic performance and overall well-being.

Sree Kalyan Patiballa, president of SKY and doctoral candidate in Engineering, has noticed a difference in his day-to-day life since joining.

“I can’t imagine my Ph.D. life going so smoothly without this,” Patiballa said. “I can confidently say that.”

SKY at UIUC is a local chapter of the national branch. The SKY Happiness Campus Program aims to teach students how to integrate holistic wellness practices into their daily lives. The program can be student-led, like the RSO at the University, or run by administrators. SKY can be found at campuses around the country, including at Stanford, Ohio State and MIT.

Patiballa describes the dangers of stress and how it can negatively impact mental health.

“Once you are stressed, you cling to negative tendencies,” he said. “Depression … it’s like a sandstorm where (the deeper) you get … the more you struggle in it.”

Patiballa said many graduate students are deeply invested in their work and can get “stuck in their labs,” and often have trouble coming out of their work bubble.

Mergen Gerelbat, treasurer of SKY at UIUC and senior in Engineering, joined SKY his freshman year to meet like-minded individuals focused on wellness. As an international student, he was looking to make friends on campus by attending the retreat, which takes place once a semester.

“When you’re kinda new in the University, it’s hard to make friends,” he said. “Also just, like, hard to be yourself. Like, those are kind of hard questions. Taking this retreat actually provides a lot of friends.”

He went on the YesPlus Retreat, a three-day on-campus event where club members and other students immerse themselves in yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

Gerelbat feels like he has now found his place, and he is at ease with the club and the friends he’s made.

“You don’t have to make much effort to be social,” he said. “You can just be yourself and relax. That’s what I like.”

There are similar organizations on campus that promote mental and social health. Saheli Seth, junior in Business and LAS, is the vice president of McKinley Stress Management Peers.

She joined for the supportive community the RSO provided and the positive message it shared.

“I joined Stress Management Peers my freshman year because I loved its family feel and its purpose of helping to create a less-stressed campus,” Seth said in an email.

These RSOs aim to educate students on different stress-reduction techniques because different methods work for different people.

In addition to his studies and SKY, Patiballa is also a TA. His schedule is busy like many other students on campus, but the mental and social benefits SKY provides in his life make the club a priority.

“I know what undergrads are going through,” he said. “So, like, everyone has their own problems, but once you meet those like-minded people, just seeing the people around who are full of positivity. It’s so nice.”

As president, Patiballa hopes to share this message of positivity with the rest of the campus population.

“Once you do it and once you see your life transforming,” he said, “you would want to share it with others.”

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