Wellness Behaviors in College Students

Kaustubha Reddy

Clemson University Honors College


Late adolescence (ages 18-21 years) is often a period of neurodevelopmental risk due to progressive imbalances between developed subcortical areas related to reward seeking and emotional experiences and developing prefrontal cortical regions. These developmental imbalances are the foundation for poorly controlled risk-taking behavior, including drug addiction, risky sexual behaviors, and poor nutrition. Furthermore, throughout their various programs, students have showed an increasing degree of stress and a poorer quality of life. In 2017, college-aged Americans reported levels of stress that were substantially higher than the older generations and did not adequately harness positive coping mechanisms (Lemay, Hoolahan, & Buchanan, 2019). In this instance, stress may adversely affect the health and wellness of students, leading to deteriorating physical and emotional symptoms, such as headaches and destructive deliberations. Due to this augmented hazard for the college student demographic, it is exigent to consider the incidence and adoption of health-promoting mindfulness and wellness behaviors that promote physical and mental well-being.

In a sample of 67,861 students from across 157 colleges in North America, mindfulness – a flexible state of mind in which the individual is actively engaged in the present – is positively associated with psychological wellbeing and negatively associated with the illuminating symptoms of anxiety and depression, avoidance coping strategies, morbidities like obesity, and binge drinking habits – data from a nationally representative sample demonstrated that 15% of males and 7% of females from the late adolescence age group reported consuming 13 or more drinks weekly (Copeland et. al, 2020). Furthermore, despite research demonstrating that physical wellness has numerous medical and lifestyle benefits, few American college students fulfill health promotion suggestions for 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week; approximately 40% to 56% of college students participate in physical activity less than twice a week and fail to achieve 10,000 steps per day (Bai et. al, 2020). Moreover, a germane body of evidence implies that sleep disturbance is associated with depression, anxiety, and consequential school attendance and academic performance. Many wellness behaviors, such as regular exercise, mindfulness, good quality sleep, and healthy dietary intake, have the advantages of being low cost, fairly accessible, without stigma, and capable of having multiple beneficial effects; they are effective methods to combat these antagonistic behaviors.

In particular, yoga and meditation are profound practices that utilize health-promoting interventions. Yoga and meditation reduce stress and anxiety and are widely accepted as nonpharmacologic modalities for overall health. The yogic ideology itself is one of consciousness, development, enlightenment, and reconciliation; it is seen to be drastically distinct from other physical disciplines due to its emphasis on uniting the mind (i.e. perceptions, awareness, and concentration) with the physical (practice and poses). People who exercise and teach yoga strive to attain a variety of objectives. It is a fantastic chance for continuous attentiveness to one’s body and breath at the same time, and it is thought to be beneficial in developing heightened awareness of body signals and awareness of the body due to its consistent focus on proprioceptive and interoceptive cues (Kramer, 2018). Meditation has evinced an improvement in arousal and self-esteem in many populations, including undergraduate students. Practicing yoga and meditation can provide a set of skills to aid students with coping mechanics that are pertinent to inside and outside the classroom (Lemay, Hoolahan, & Buchanan, 2019).

A lack of effective and efficient wellness and mindfulness behaviors in college-aged students can even lead to vast causes of mortality, such as suicide. In fact, suicide is the leading cause of
death for college students and the 2nd leading causing of death among people aged 10-34 in the United States. This pandemic is exemplified by the prevalence of negative distinctions of college campuses and the failure of students to engage in adaptive, mindful health behaviors, such as adequate sleep, balanced diet, and moderate drinking. Suicidal behavior, operationalized as suicidal ideas and attempts, is more common than suicide, yet it is a powerful predictor of mortality by suicide. Annually, 8% of college students strongly contemplate suicide and 1.3% attempt it, compared to 3.7% of US adults who have suicidal thoughts and 0.5% of people who try it, underlining college students’ sensitivity to suicidal behavior (Rabon, Sirois, & Hirsch, 2018).

Maintaining healthy mindfulness and wellbeing practices is integral to a high quality of life. In fact, the U.S. government is invested in the mental and physical health status of the population. Health People 2030, a set of goals released by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, highlights the need for adolescent welfare through the topic of “Improve the health

and well-being of adolescents.” The objectives listed under this topic resonate with the government’s aspirations for adolescents to better prioritize their vigor via health-promoting behaviors. Specific areas targeted by the objectives intend to implement practices to reduce the proportion of people under age 21 who engaged in binge drinking and adolescents who used drugs in the past month (SU-09 and SU-05, respectively). Additionally, Healthy People 2030 have the goals to reduce suicide attempts by adolescents (MHMD-02) and increase the proportion of students participating in the School Breakfast Program (AH-04) to promote nutrition and healthy eating. Lastly, a major goal to increase the proportion of adolescents who do enough aerobic physical activity (PA-06) could be accomplished with mindful practices like yoga (Healthy People, 2030).

Hence, wellness and mindfulness practices are extremely influential in decreasing the impact of a pandemic of stress, anxiety, and menial physical and mental health among college students. While wellness consists of a plethora of healthy behaviors, this paper primarily focuses on meditation and yoga practices.


Health theory is often applied when health professionals seek to comprehend the perceptions behind a person’s behavior and the most operational behaviors for changing health behaviors. A component of health theory is a construct – a description of the variables or actions that exist in the theory. These configurations provide the structure of theory and recommend interventions to support behavioral changes. Some of the most common theories that apply to mindfulness and wellbeing behaviors include the Health Belief Model and the Social Ecological Model.

Health Belief Model
The Health Belief Model (HBM) is a model of theory that involves the constructs that explore

why people chose to follow prevention protocols or treatments for chronic diseases. HBM considers individual factors, such as age and socioeconomic background, and personal assessment of the risk of chronic illness and an assessment of the benefits of behavior change. HBM provides a theoretical lens though which it can be understood what motivates people to participate in yoga. Yoga is seen as a complementary health approach through a component of

perceived vulnerabilities and wellbeing benefits. When the perceived benefit of the intervention outweighs the perceived risk of the intervention, the individual acts on health behavior and health risks; if the perceived benefits of participating in health behavior outweigh the benefits beyond barriers, one changes their health behavior. HBM also suggests that negative perceptions of health risks increase the likelihood of engaging in health promotion (Skinner et al., 2015). Kabiri et al. (2018) utilized the HBM to analyze the factors or conditions and obstacles to yoga activity across 165 female and 32 male university students, discovering that reported hurdles include time and expense. In addition, HBM evinced the premise that participants engaged in yoga and mindfulness behaviors based on recognized benefits and protective factors from illness. The path an individual took to practice self-care depended on age, gender, socioeconomic status, and media influences.

Furthermore, a survey of 485 college students (100% response rate) at a Midwestern institution used the health belief model components to assess the general frequency and usefulness of therapeutic acute stress management methodologies. Listening to music, running or exercising, and taking deep breaths were shown to be the most beneficial strategies. The use of effective acute stress management approaches varied greatly depending on perceived advantages, obstacles, and signals. Students who perceived high advantages, low obstacles, and high signals improved their use of stress management approaches. Future research should focus on stress management approaches for this demographic. The study concluded that because most students do not employ appropriate acute stress management strategies, stress management programming on college campuses should aim to teach students. Health educators can improve the likelihood that students will utilize stress management techniques by addressing the advantages of adopting proper acute stress management approaches, teaching strategies to overcome hurdles, and demonstrating successful ways to transmit cues to college students. Campus health educators might also assist students by educating them on how to avoid becoming overwhelmed by current pressures and to employ appropriate time management skills. Mindfulness, counting to ten, spirituality or prayer, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, stretching or Hatha Yoga, and imaging or visualization are all strategies that students found were not effective because they were not fully educated on these novelties – this could be combatted with online workshops that target efficient acute stress management.

Social Ecological Model
Furthermore, the social ecological model can demonstrate the variety of factors that support or

hinder the use of mental health apps as resources for unaccompanied migrant youth, who have trouble in accessing appropriate aid. Through workshops that conducted studies under the lens of the social-ecological theory, it was determined that there is strong influence from the macro- system, including the societal level, which limited abilities to use the apps. Additionally, other factors, including personal experiences, technology infrastructure, and social environment account for the disconnect between technological mental health resources and youth (Tachtler et al., 2021).

Aldwin et. al, conducted a study to observe vulnerability and resilience (which indubitably affects wellness) during the COVID-19 pandemic – they employed the social ecology model to investigate this among older persons. Their methodology consisted of looking at two open-ended questions from a survey of 235 people aged 51 to 95 on COVID-19-related challenges and pleasant experiences in the previous week. They found three distinct levels of personal, interpersonal, and/or societal challenges and advantages. Only at the personal level, less than half of the respondents experienced challenges (41%) and positives (40%). People were more likely to describe experiences spanning the personal and interpersonal levels when it came to level crossover (14% and 18%, respectively). At the social level, a few people experienced both obstacles and benefits. In this study, older people were intensely aware of the obstacles and opportunities that existed at all three levels, and they contributed to resources at the interpersonal and communal levels. This study concluded that older people were intensely aware of the obstacles and opportunities that existed at all three levels, and they contributed to resources at the interpersonal and communal levels older people were intensely aware of the obstacles and opportunities that existed at all three levels, and they contributed to resources at the interpersonal and communal levels.


Intrapersonal factors are imperative concepts that describe the elements influencing people’s behaviors – they are internal, intrinsic factors, such as attitudes, self-esteem, self-regulation, demographics, and decision-making.

In particular, personality, personal values, and psychological traits are vehement intrapersonal factors that affect one’s mental health and the mindfulness techniques employed to alleviate the consequences. Fontaine (2022) examines the action of suicide through an intrapersonal lens, where she emphasizes that those suffering from the self-inflicted conflict of defining their own behaviors as unethical or disappointing causes students to carry out suicidal behaviors. People who resonate with perfectionism personalities can differentially impact their own psychological wellbeing. Contemporary research has focused on the relevance of perfectionism in intellectual health emergencies, highlighting the presence of a “cost of being flawless” for psychological health between university students (Fontaine, 2022). In fact, perfectionism has even been marked as the antithesis to mindfulness due to the implications of studies that demonstrate the facets of hyper-perfectionistic and its association with low mindfulness. The study suggests that people who engage in extreme perfectionism behaviors would benefit substantially from increased mindfulness (Flett, 2021).

In addition, socioeconomic status (SES) has evinced itself as a highly significant demographic contributor towards mental health repercussions. Ramifications of SES on mental health highlight that both the affluent and economically disadvantaged, contribute to students’ professional advancement and, as a result, frame their ethnic, social, and contextual terrain in ways that enhance psychological health. In a study among 72 students from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain, the reduction of anxiety as a result of the incorporation of mindfulness programs into the academic field was examined; it was deduced that most of the participants were women, highlighting that the female demographic is more likely than men to participate in such wellness programs (Moix et al., 2021).

Furthermore, students are often plagued by anxiety due to a lack of time or time management skills. Students require adaptable and flexible programs to effectively practice mindfulness

techniques. Hence, in the study conducted by Moix and colleagues (2021) among university students, it was noted that their study was designed to fully adapt to characteristics practicing a flexible protocol – this study successfully increased mindfulness by addressing a set of five capacities: observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judgement, and non-reactivity. College students particularly value protocols based on the premises of short duration, guidance, flexibility, and novel approaches that can aid in the introduction of wellness behaviors. Therefore, Moix designed this study to consist of mainly a seated mediation with focus on breathing for five minutes, mindfulness of routine activity, and a three gifts exercise (acknowledge three pleasurable memories of the day). All three practices created a flexible atmosphere that counteracted an adversarial strict regimen due to the intrapersonal emphasis students place on swift, timely, resilient, and malleable behavior.


Interpersonal factors are those that are observe a person’s relationships with his/her/their surrounding environment. Interpersonal influences can change mindfulness health behaviors and mental health implications through social influence and support.

As discussed in the intrapersonal section, the perfectionism values can vary based on cultural aspects of third party relationships due to the vast personal expectations parental influence may place on students. With this third-party superiority comes a large emphasis of personal expectations and responsibility, exacerbating feelings of guilt or shame on the student which can substantiate the underlying ideation or contemplation of deleterious mental health outcomes, including depression and suicide. This phenomenon has been researched among Chinese and Japanese students and has recently been observed in the Western world. Within this culture of high parental expectations, adolescents are coerced into a mindset of brute success but lack the psychosocial techniques to adequately handle failures, setbacks, and disappointments. Thus, despite close, trusting relationships between parents and children, the shame and guilt from disappointing social superiors may influence the development of negative, taxing mental health conditions (Fontaine, 2022). Additionally, Flett (2021) determined that people who experience pressures to be perfect experience particular difficulty in developing a state of mindfulness that is consonant with their personality, temperament, and orientation toward life. This perspective

concurs that support from one’s social network can severely affect one’s ability to cope in response to overwhelming stress and mental distress.

Cultural difference (the degree toward which third parties possess comparable beliefs, customs, and other institutional indicators with the responder) was shown to be a significant indicator of cohesiveness only for parents, friends, and teachers – this means the perception of support between respondents and romantic partners or siblings is statistically insignificant. Cultural remoteness suggests a positive linear association with evaluations of supportiveness for the third- party groups for whom this is a significant predictor. Interpersonal connection between siblings is also associated with a decreased risk of suicide risk and melancholy.

From a more optimistic approach, as a generalizable statement, large social networks could provide support due to constant affirmative experiences and a clear set of stable, socially acceptable roles in the community. This sense of predictability and stability increases the recognition of self-worth and esteem which allows students to properly cope and glean effective responses. Support may intervene between the stressful event and reaction by preventing a stress appraisal response. The perception that others can provide resources in response to stress can rectify the potential harm, impaired physiological outcome, and fear posed by a situation and bolster one’s ability to cope with imposed demands. Social support has the ability to genuinely buffer the relationship between stress and health (Fontaine, 2022).


In an effort to mitigate a lack of mindfulness and wellness behaviors in college students, organizations, communities, environments, and policies can be analyzed. When evaluating wellness and mindfulness practices at the organizational level, colleges and universities serve as a major governor in activity level for college students. Most students decrease purposeful wellness and mindfulness exercises in college and consequentially, this lack of healthy indulgence quickly shifts to a routine of malevolent treatment to oneself. In 2017, college-aged Americans reported higher levels of stress than older generations and often did not adequately address their stress through positive coping mechanisms (APA, 2017). A potential organizational method of positive coping and purposeful mindfulness is demonstrated in the use of college

campus’ psychological and counseling services. As per the American College Health Association’s (ACHA-NCHA) 2008 National College Health Assessment, over one-third of college students described experiencing depression to the point of inability to function, and almost one-tenth disclosed strongly contemplating suicide and self harm (American College Health Association 2009). According to a 2006 survey of 26,000 pupils from 70 academic institutions, more than half of the students admitted experiencing one episode of suicidal ideation at some stage of life (Drum et al., 2009). Evidence shows that students’ mental health issues are worse now than in the past, and that a higher percentage of students are seeking treatment. As an

reported a considerable rise in serious psychological disorders among their students. Similarly, the proportion of students who have ever been diagnosed with depression has climbed from 10% to 15% since 2000. (Gallagher, 2008). According to these findings, mental health issues are quite common among college students, and campus mental health directors are becoming sensitive to the changing atmospheres on campus and adapting to provide mental health services accordingly: as the number of counseling and psychological services increase, students mental health needs are being catered to in manners that prevent negative coping strategies.

Furthermore, other organizations have affected the increase in access to healthy mindfulness techniques. Certain video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube, have positively influenced college students with the promotion of healthy daily routines, such as yoga seminars, exercise videos, and nutritious meal preparation ideas; this platform even offers access to millions of healthy lifestyle tips for free, and for those willing to pay, there is a plethora of reliable exercise options. Additionally, these videos are catered for optimal convenience as these workout classes or informational videos can be streamed right form the comfort of one’s home. “YouTube doesn’t keep official stats on how many videos are tagged ‘fitness’ but the company reported that last year, viewers watched 5,500 years-worth of yoga videos alone. That’s double the number from the previous year, according to the company” (ABC News, 2015).

On the other hand, a lack of positive coping mechanisms in college students can be fueled by community factors hinting to the lack of immediate physical and social surroundings of individuals consisting of household and family members. For many students, college is a time of

example, in

a national study of university psychological counseling centers, 95% of directors

new beginnings marked by the exploration of new friendships and independence from authoritative guidance: this can lead to a lonely experience. According to previous research, adolescents and young adults seem to be particularly vulnerable to suicide as loneliness ferociously disintegrates college students (Brennan, Rubenstein, & Shaver, 1985). This lack of social network, family intervention variables, and positive cognitive characteristics leads to learned helplessness and interpersonal behaviors that are self-derogatory, depressive, and cynical (Ponzetti, 1990).

Additionally, a major social community factor influencing a healthy lifestyle is social media. Social media is negative in the sense that it promotes “diet culture” which is an ideology that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health and wellbeing. It often restricts caloric intake, normalizes self-criticism, and broadly labels certain foods as healthy or unhealthy. This mindset fueled by social media is, in turn, negative for the self-image of college students and leads to stress, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. However, social media may be beneficial in that it encourages healthful, lasting meals and is recently adopting a movement that emphasizes naturalness and the abolition of “diet culture” (Hogan, 2010).

Environmental activities, such as participation in sports, can promote mindful and wellness to positively react to stress. Sports can help deal with stress due to the release of endorphins, the chemicals in one’s brain that reduce pain and tension, during exercise’ it also lowers stress hormone levels, such as cortisol and adrenaline. According to studies, solely 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every day might help people feel calmer (Wilson-Salandy & Nies, 2012). Exercise is especially critical for college freshmen, who are more likely to establish hazardous behaviors as they adjust to a new environment. Chronic diseases, academic load, social life, campus living, and family events are all common stresses that lead to unhealthy habits and physical inactivity among college students (Economos et al., 2008). When compared to other adults, college students between the ages of 18 and 25 have the lowest level of regular physical exercise as they get less than the recommended daily 30 minutes of moderate to strenuous exercise (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). According to one study that examined changes in the physical activity of female freshmen, physical activity levels fell throughout the transition from home to college (Butler, 2004). Secondly, alcohol intake is a common environmental factor

affecting stress levels among college students; alcohol misuse or abuse can result in a variety of negative health effects. The high prevalence of alcohol use among college students has continued to rise, becoming a major public health problem (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021). Binge drinking, in particular, is at an all-time high among college students: 66% of college students drink alcohol; 44 % of these students binge drink, which is defined as a habit of consuming alcohol that results in a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher (The National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism [NIAA], 2021). Excessive alcohol use can have a variety of unforeseen outcomes, such as scholastic failure, vehicle accidents, injuries, pregnancies, and suicide attempts. Hence, a lack of exercise and dangerous alcohol consumption is correlated with increasing mental health issues and a need for participation in mindfulness/wellness activities.

Academic centers, according to researchers, may be the best location for stress reduction and prevention programs since so many stressors are directly tied to the academic environment and these stressors impair students’ performance in academic centers. In response to rising levels of anxiety disorders, despair, drug misuse, and disengagement among students, educators and health professionals are developing research-based interventions at academic institutions. The project collaborates with academic centers to develop and implement site-based policies and practices that may minimize student stress and encourage higher student participation, academic integrity, and physical and mental health. While the stress reduction process varies depending on the conditions of each academic center, some tactics that have been employed effectively in academic centers include:

  1. Reduce the emphasis on “grades for the sake of grades” and instead concentrate on learning and comprehension.
  2. Identify learners who exhibit high levels of stress.
  3. Include stress curriculums in schools.
  4. Alter the daily agenda of the academic centers.
  5. Examine homework policies.
  6. Examine testing policies.
  7. Minimize exam anxiety.
  8. Make certain that students receive appropriate assistance.
  9. Share information about the causes and implications of academic stress.

     10. Encourage healthy practices.

11. Assist individuals in establishing strong coping mechanisms (Sheykhjan, 2015).

In addition, the current COVID-19 outbreak has caused an unprecedented degree of disruption in people’s daily lives all throughout the world. Stay-at-home/safer-at-home policies have significantly reduced persons’ face-to-face interaction. Students at college have had to swiftly adjust to novel modalities of training, such as various forms of virtual classrooms. Many institutions have yet to make final judgments about how they will conduct education in the next semester – the uncertainty that COVID-19 introduces to everyday life and higher education endeavors results in a range of negative effects for college students, including greater stress and anxiety and worse academic performance. In reaction to the stress of the pandemic, college students use much more maladaptive coping techniques than the overall population, according to the findings of a study that compared how undergraduate students at a small institution in the Southwestern United States deal with the pandemic to the wider adult community. These students exhibited much lower levels of optimism, conscientiousness, emotional involvement, and ability to adapt to changing experiences. Hence, higher education institutions consider the above policies of academic centers as they plan for the upcoming academic year.


While circumstances are gradually getting better, mindfulness is still often accompanied by a negative stigma in society, where it is believed that mental health illness is a sign of weakness and seeking treatment is frowned upon. We must first eradicate this harmful mindset to harness a world where mindfulness and vulnerability is embraced for as Einstein once said, “you cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.”

In addition, mindfulness is challenging due to the negativity bias of our brains – a plethora of our thoughts are repetitively negative which makes it difficult to rewire for a more positive, fruitful approach such as that of meditation. A solution to this self-inflicting pessimism would be to practice affirmations – the use of powerful words to create a sentence positive enough to tap into the conscious and unconscious mind to reach full potential. Affirmations have the power to motivate people to act on certain things in their life that they may perhaps want to change, help people concentrate on achieving their goals in life, and most importantly, give people the power

to change their negative thinking patterns by replacing them with a much more beneficial, positive belief system. Affirmations can then lead into manifestation which is something put into reality based through thought, beliefs, and feelings, enhancing the Law of Attraction – the phenomenon of attracting whatever you are focusing on into your life. Hence, words of affirmation can play a role in bolstering people’s self-worth.

Mindfulness techniques are sophisticated tools that we can use to reboot our hard drives and clear our bugs and defects. However, mindfulness practices don’t need to be as structured as they may seem to be. Practicing focus and presence can be done in any moment with kindness and curiosity – this can be in the shower, in the morning with a cup of coffee, or in the form of a deep breath before a performance. Students ought to show themselves grace and remember that no matter the time, emotion, or impulse they feel, they can always begin mindfulness again.

Mindfulness should take place in the support of books, lectures, classes, and conversations with like-minded peers: it’s not something that needs to be practiced alone. A prototype project at the University of Washington that promotes coping practices has offered trainees with effective approaches for stress management, emotional stability, and acquiring self-kindness. The “Be REAL” curriculum was widely made available to students in residence halls by non-clinical staff members, and it fostered the casual atmosphere of a group to integrate conventional cognitive behavioral methodologies with actions focused on controlling respiration, meditation, and retrieving a sense of respect, sensitivity, and appreciation toward oneself and others. Pre- and post-survey results revealed substantial gains in mindfulness and self-compassion, as well as increased resilience and decreased stress (Eckart, 2021).

An organizational intervention targeted for younger students could be that similar to Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School, where students who misbehave are sent to the “BeWell” room rather than immediately the principal’s office. To help students cope with serious stressors at home and imbalanced emotions, Warner turns towards high-quality mindfulness to encourage yoga, breathing techniques, and classroom support. Furthermore, instructors were given mindfulness training to guide their behaviors to become more grounded and less impulsive to traumatic situations in school. The school noticed that behavior referrals were down 80% from the year

prior – this wellness program works and advances mental health and behavior (Kamenetz & Knight, 2020).

Wellness and mindfulness practices are extremely profound in decreasing the impact of a pandemic of stress, anxiety, and menial physical and mental health among college students. Hence, we must chalk out and traverse the path towards better global wellness and serve as catalysts who help ignite the flame for even a small, but remarkable difference.


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