First Friday, this Friday

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Students searching for stress relief (and let’s face it, who isn’t) have a new reason to look forward to the weekend. On the first Friday of every month, Slayter is becoming a haven of relaxation.

A new program, aptly named First Fridays, features puppies, chair massages, mindful meditation, and even Tai Chi. Students looking to unwind can drop by the fourth floor of Slayter this Friday, April 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. to take part in the second installment of the program.

Sonya Turner, the director of Health and Counseling Services, noted that stress is a concern for students across the country. “This is not unique to Denison,” said Turner, one of event’s organizers. “But we want to be proactive.”

Nothing brings comfort quite like animals, especially certified therapy pets from the non-profit public charity Angel Paws based in nearby Newark. At last month’s event, a single dog bark was enough to summon a group of excited students from an adjoining room.

Molly Thurlow-Collen, the associate director of Health Services, explained the benefits of enjoying the animals in a group. “Students played with the dogs and talked about their own pets,” said Thurlow-Collen, who also helps put the event together. “It was an inviting environment.”

The event also features mindful meditation, led by Mark Orten, director of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Alina Haliliuc, assistant professor of communications. Mindful meditation is about cultivating awareness in the present moment and can have many health benefits, including improved learning and memory, emotional regulation, and perspective-taking, as well as relief from anxiety and depression.

For the slightly more ambitious folks, Dick Kinsley offers Tai Chi lessons. Kinsley, executive director of the Ohio Campus Compact coalition hosted at Denison, explained that this mix of meditation and low-impact martial arts “provides an enjoyable way to improve balance, stability, and flexibility, while reducing stress and alleviating mental and physical tension.”

First Fridays are part of a larger effort to get the campus thinking about overall wellness and health.

Catherine Champagne, the college’s alcohol, drug and health education coordinator, pointed out how students need to give themselves breaks. “A lot of people feel guilty about taking time for themselves,” said Champagne, another one of the event’s organizers, but “they need to identify the healthy activities that give them a sense of relaxation.”

For those who can’t make it to this First Friday, there are still plenty of ways to decompress in a healthy way. Turner suggested going for walks, reading a favorite book before bed, or just talking with those in one’s support system, such as friends or family.

“Stress management can be a very practical experience,” said Turner. “Students think they just need to push through their work, but actually just relaxing for a bit makes them think more clearly and can actually make them more productive.”

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