Winter is a busy time of year at Minnetonka High School. Between final exams, end of the semester projects, and preparing for registration next year, stress can sometimes run high. Student leaders at MHS have been working on ways to alleviate some of the tension and encourage students to practice mindfulness. One idea they were able to implement was to set aside an area of the school where students could take a break from homework and finals and instead enjoy playing with a group of therapy rabbits.
"Finals are of course important but they sometimes end up bubbling into a bigger deal than necessary," says Laura Hebst, Advanced Learning Coordinator at the high school. "Starting the day in a calm and positive manner like this helps students gain some perspective and hopefully walk into final exams calmer and more able to see the bigger picture."
MHS partnered with a local organization called Bunny Besties, which is run through the University of Minnesota. This nonprofit aims to support the mental and emotional health of the community through Animal Assisted Interactions. Representatives from the company, along with a dozen trained bunnies, visited the high school on Thursday, January 23, during the study block allotted for students prior to finals. Over the course of the two-hour period, more than 540 students showed up to catch a break and recharge before heading off to their finals.
Priscilla Bunday is a student leader for Bunny Besties at MHS. Along with fellow juniors Linden Rude and Mara Sandberg, she worked hard to plan and organize the event for other students to enjoy. A dedicated student herself, Priscilla has experienced first-hand the extra pressures added at the end of the semester. She loved watching the students' stress melt away as they walked in the door and saw all of the rabbits. "Getting a chance to take a mental break and just do something fun, like watch bunnies run and jump across the floor, can be really important."
The positive physical, mental and emotional effects of practicing mindfulness are invaluable. When left alone, stress can build up and lead to more severe mental health issues, negatively impacting the lives of thousands of high school and college students, as well as those of the general population. However, healthy stress management is still possible even in our busy world if we set aside time for self-care and personal enjoyment. One of the best ways to do this is through building connections with both people and animals.
"I have witnessed the tremendous value of unique and creative programming that supplements traditional responses to this current [mental health] crisis...Bunny Besties is a perfect example of harnessing the powerful experience of the human-animal bond to help students and others in the community." Gary Christenson, the current chair for Bunny Besties, says on the company's website. "Our rescued rabbits have a unique ability to lower stress of the humans around them and bring joyfulness to those in challenging life [situations]."
"It's extremely easy to get caught up in your stress and forget that you need to take time to step back, take a deep breath and focus on taking care of yourself," concludes Priscialla "I think it is good to develop habits early on, not only to protect our mental and physical health now, but also so that when we are in even more pressing situations in the future, we don't burn out and crash as a result of not taking care of ourselves."