Stress, anxiety, and fear of missing out are familiar to Duke students, whether they be undergraduates or Ph.D. students. While there’s no way to avoid that in the world of academia, Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE) program coordinator Jennifer Valentyn wants to help equip students with the tools they need to take care of their own mental health when things get tough. That’s why she became a Koru Mindfulness teacher.
Valentyn’s interest in mindfulness started over a decade ago when she heard an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and writer who has been a key figure in bringing mindfulness into the American mainstream since the early 90s. “It struck me that there could be an alternative to the stressed, anxious way I was living my life. Although I knew I had much to be grateful for, I could not enjoy my life because I was so caught up in worrying about the future or mulling over the past,” Valentyn said. From there she began to seek out mindfulness training on her own, using guided meditation.
Last year, she learned about the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification. Koru, which started at Duke, is a mindfulness program that is designed for students. It gives them the classic tools for mindfulness-- breathing techniques, visualization exercises, and guided meditations—and translates them into a college environment. Valentyn knew immediately after hearing about Koru that the students she works with could benefit from it.“Being in touch with the anxiety level of Duke students pursuing finance, I also recognized how much they could benefit from learning how to just be, taking a break from constantly doing and measuring themselves based on external factors, like GPA and internship offers,” she said. With the support of the directors of the DFE, Valentyn launched her first class, which filled up quickly.
The benefits of Koru and mindfulness are endless, says Valentyn. “It’s a practice that has been scientifically proven to decrease stress levels, but it also fosters self-awareness, acceptance, compassion, and gratitude,” she explains. “Clearly, Duke is a high intensity place in which achievement and outcomes are prized. By finding a little stillness for a few minutes each day, we all have the capacity to get space from our stress and re-engage in our lives.”
John Caccavale, co-director of the DFE, is hopeful that the Koru initiative will prove useful to students. "One of the mantras of the DFE is to help students navigate life after Duke. We strongly believe that our new mindfulness initiative will be an invaluable resource for students to handle the stress of college as well as enabling them to be more focused and thoughtful after they graduate.”
Valentyn will be offering another course for Fall 2019. All Duke students regardless of major are welcome to sign up. For more information on the course and on Koru in general, click here.