From muddy waters to blue skies using BreathingRoom™

Communiqué (Milwaukee, Wis.) - NOVEMBER 2016

From muddy waters to blue skies using BreathingRoom™
From muddy waters to blue skies using BreathingRoom™
Allan Donsky
October 22, 2023
Research and Insights

Students and Anxiety

During the post-secondary education phase, students face many challenges. There are exams, classes, and many other life changes. The one thing we often overlook is how all these major factors can affect the students’ mental health.

At Mount Royal University, they wanted to find ways to make sure students are not just academically successful but mentally healthy as well.

The research paper “From Muddy Water to Blue Skies Using BreathingRoomTM” discusses this topic. It’s all about helping school students feel and do better through the BreathingRoomTM program.

In this article, we go through the paper and talk about why this research matters, how they did it, and what they found. So, keep reading to know more about enhancing students’ lives during college.

Why Student Mental Health Matters

Sometimes, academic pressure and new responsibilities take a toll on college students. However, it’s essential to know that it’s not all about studying and attending classes.

In recent years, academic institutions started to realize how important it is for students to be mentally healthy. Not only does this translate to success, but it also enables them to better handle the issues they face.

The goal here isn’t just about being happy, although it’s also important. It’s about doing well in school too. After all, trying to study for an upcoming exam or finish an assignment while feeling stressed out is tough.

In general, when students feel good mentally, they can focus better, study effectively, and perform their best.

Among the most common symptoms in college students raising concerns about their mental well-being are:

How Anxiety Affects College Students

The rise in anxiety levels is one of the most concerning issues among college students. The impact of anxiety can appear in many ways, including physical symptoms, like shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and restlessness.

Exam anxiety, for example, is a common experience that contributes to the heightened levels of anxiety in many students. Unfortunately, the effect of such stressors can lead to serious mental health issues, such as depression among college students.

Therefore, understanding and addressing the complexities of anxiety in higher education is crucial. It creates a supportive environment for students to thrive academically and mentally.

The BreathingRoomTM Program

The BreathingRoomTM online program aims to address the mental health of post-secondary students going through tough times. It provides strategies and ideas to address students' mental health issues.

It’s like a set of tools (videos, activities, etc.) for the mind, helping people feel less stressed.

Mainly, this award-winning mental health program was created by the Canadian Institute for Natural and Integrative Medicine (CINIM). It was designed for anxious students aged 13–24 who were feeling down and unable to handle stressful situations.

What’s great about it is that they discovered that it can also help build resilience too.

In general, the BreathingRoomTM program consists of eight modules. Each one contains multiple activities to aid students in relaxing, de-stressing, and feeling more in control. Such activities include practices like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and mindfulness exercises.

Research Methodology

Mount Royal University had a plan aiming to help students succeed by removing barriers to academic achievements. They followed the Okanagan Charter of Health Promoting University and Colleges call to action to promote better health across the whole campus.

Take a look at how the research went.

Step #1: Collecting Data From the National College Health Assessment

To become informed about students, the faculty used data collected by the National College Health Assessment (NCHA). Such data helps form the university’s direction, funding decisions, and support activities.

Within the NCHA data, students shared some health concerns that had a hand in impacting their academic progress. These concerns include exhibiting symptoms of anxiety among students, feeling stress from school, having sleep difficulties, and showing depression signs.

As a result, two researchers decided to adopt the BreathingRoomTM program and collect data on its impact.

Step #2: Introducing the BreathingRoomTM to the Students

To understand how the BreathingRoomTM program was beneficial, the researchers at Mount Royal University had a plan. They wanted to find out how it felt to use this program while protecting the students’ privacy.

So, they introduced the program to two different classes that were already familiar with self-care and mental health wellness strategies. This way, students could access it as a part of their regular classwork.

Step #3: Asking Students to Share Their Experiences

Both classes were different in nature, but each had two sections, totaling 100 students.

Primarily, one class focused on child and youth counseling, and the other was about undergraduate studies. The former class’s course included the topic of self-care, while the latter prioritized student wellness.

For a start, the researchers asked students to engage with the BreathingRoomTM on a weekly basis. They wanted the students to try out as much as they could of the program’s tools and activities.

In addition, they also asked the students to write about their experiences in journals that they later used as a part of their research.

Step #4: Keeping It Private

It was essential to keep the students’ reviews about the program private to ensure honest answers. Therefore, researchers made sure the students’ identities were kept secret. They did that by collecting and anonymizing participant’s data, each from the other’s class.

This way, no one knew which students were taking part in the research. Consequently, this made it easier for participants to share their thoughts and feelings without having to worry.

Step #5: Interviewing Students

Researchers also interviewed students from the other teacher’s classes as another data source. These interviews were all about hearing students’ perspectives and understanding their experiences with the BreathingRoomTM program.

Key Findings: What Students Had to Say

Students’ experience with the BreathingRoomTM program varied depending on their prior encounters with mental health issues. While some embraced it right away, others initially viewed it as a mandatory task.

Overall, students' feedback concluded the following main findings.

1. Perspective

After studying the data they collected, researchers discovered that students fell into three categories.

2. Impact

Students who had their own experiences with mental health concerns or knew someone who found value in the BreathingRoomTM program. They appreciated the tools and strategies it provided to manage their well-being.

Furthermore, some participants remarked that it helped them feel less alone and more comfortable discussing their issues with others.

On the other hand, students who hadn’t personally dealt with mental health concerns had a tougher time understanding the relevance of the program. Some were just doing it for the grades at first. However, they engaged with the program and acknowledged its benefits later on.

3. Resilience

The most significant outcome observed was that the program contributed to building resilience among students. It empowered them with a variety of self-care strategies to use in both their academic and personal lives.

Barriers and Facilitators

Despite appreciating the university’s commitment to addressing stress and promoting self-care, students did face some challenges using the program. Here’s a brief list of the most notable barriers and facilitators.

1. The Positive Factors

What encouraged students the most to engage with the program was the flexibility it offered. That’s because they could adapt the activities to their preferences, making it a more personalized experience.

As they progressed through the program, many students set goals for themselves. They intended to maintain their self-care practices even after the course ended. This proved that the program had a lasting impact on their well-being.

2. The Time Challenge

One of the most notable barriers facing this study was the time it took to complete all the program’s content. Some students procrastinated and only engaged with the modules at the last minute. As a result, they missed out on all the benefits.

Alternatively, spreading the program out over the week seemed to work better for most participants.

3. The Focus on Depression

Another challenge is that the BreathingRoomTM program focused heavily on depression symptoms in the first few modules. This had a negative impact on some participants, especially those who had experienced depression in the past and didn’t want to revisit those memories.

Researchers’ Reflection

As researchers studied the impact of the BreathingRoomTM program on students, they came across some unexpected realizations. The most notable of which was the ethics of privileging one particular tool over others.

Offering support for students is vital. Yet, maybe some people prefer to manage stress in their own way, such as talking to a school counselor or mental health professionals.

Another surprise came in the form of disclosures in the students’ journals. Sharing quite sensitive information and personal experiences raised concerns about the level of appropriateness within the student-teacher relationship.

Finally and ironically enough, researchers found out that the program created additional stress rather than relieving it.


As explored in the research, the BreathingRoomTM program offers valuable tools for enhancing students' well-being and academic success. While participants face challenges such as time constraints and program focus, they can benefit from such initiatives.

Despite some complexities, the overall goal remains vital, which is creating educational environments where students thrive mentally and emotionally.

Read the full research paper here.

From muddy waters to blue skies using BreathingRoom™

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