Eat, Breathe, Study: Spirituality and College Finals Success

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Bentley Finals Week spiritual retreat

College finals week typically brings visions of stressed, bleary-eyed students pulling all-nighters, but many schools are trying to change that.

No, they’re not doing away with finals (sorry!), but they are providing perks like snack breaks and extended library hours. For example, Bentley University’s Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity is jumping on this trend and running a “Fuel for Finals” event, providing students with hot cocoa, stress balls, coloring books and even tutors. There will even be therapy animals on campus.

Therapy dogs at Bentley

Now Bentley is even taking it a step further with a day-long study “Breath of Life” spiritual retreat to support students — using goal setting, a support network and “mindfulness breaks” inspired by religious traditions. (And free food!)


Improving the Study Process

“This on-campus study retreat provides an opportunity to unite mind, body and soul by putting study in the context of spiritual practice,” says Robin Olson, director of the Spiritual Life Center. Study Retreat“The retreat theme of ‘Breath of Life’ draws from the wisdom of several faith traditions, and students from any or no faith background are welcome.”

Held during Bentley’s designated reading day (this year it’s on May 5, 2016), the program is sponsored by the Spiritual Life Center and the Center for Health and Wellness and includes more than six hours of study time embedded among relaxation exercises. Spiritual practices of mindfulness, guided breath prayer and shared accountability are offered; a colorful pinwheel carried throughout the day serves as a reminder to breathe deeply.

(Interested in these practices? Olson shares her favorite ways to adopt mindfulness.)

The retreat begins with breakfast and Morning Reflection, as students name what they intend to accomplish during the day. After the day’s spiritual practice is introduced, students disperse to study. Midday Reflection and lunch provide a break, followed by more dedicated study time. The day wraps up with Evening Reflection and dinner.


Gaining Focus

Ankine SarkessianThe program was first launched last fall, with a “Season of Light” interfaith theme. Participants have reported a gain in focus and productivity. Ankine Sarkessian ’18, for example, says that going to the retreat was “possibly the best study choice I made all semester.” The accounting major recalls that she was “really productive, especially with my votive to remind me to keep working. The environment really inspired me to make the most of my day. I liked being with students and chaplains of different faiths. It was really great to be able to talk, eat and study together, even if we believe in slightly different religions.”

Jenna PlotzkyJenna Plotzky ’19, was happy to have a quiet room to study and complete her work (she’s majoring in corporate finance and accounting). “The food, games and spirit were all very much appreciated, and making us set our goals motivated me to work harder.”

Olson says that regulated times to reflect, eat and study alleviate guilt about taking a break, and alleviate procrastination. The benefit of the practice of accountability is something students mention a lot. Stating what you are going to accomplish out loud, to the group, helps keep them on task. Then, at the end of the day, they report back on their progress.

When schools provide space separate from typical study areas like the library, she adds, it actually reduces feelings of anxiety and competition among students. “Retreat participants become a community, encouraging each other and often helping one another with study.  What really helps is that they know they’re not alone in their stress.”

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Kristen Walsh is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area with a niche in higher education, healthcare and small business. She enjoys the behind-the-scenes information gathering and personal interviews that bring stories to life and strike a chord with readers. Online content and magazine writing includes blogs, opinion pieces, features and healthcare reporting. Her work has been published byThe Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hechinger Report and The MetroWest Daily News.