The Western capitalist culture places a tremendous amount of emphasis and value on “doing.” In our high school lives, this shows up as very long days of doing school work, playing sports, and joining clubs, among the many other responsibilities us students have. Many take on these responsibilities because they enjoy them. However, society also reinforces this constant “doing” by pressuring students to achieve a certain type of success defined by excellent grades, noteworthy achievements, and extensive social connections. With all of this “doing,” there is minimal space for simply “being.” It can feel hard to give yourself permission to just be in the present moment without the nagging feeling that you should be doing something “more productive.” This past semester, Sally Zimmerli introduced a new wellness course, titled “Wellness & Mindfulness: Tools for Happiness and Wellbeing in Daily Life.” Zimmerli designed the class in hopes of helping students find effective ways to cope with challenges we face as high school students and individuals living in this complex world.

As a former Dean of Students, Zimmerli observes: “CA tends to the intellectual brain, but there isn’t always time set aside for people to realize that intentionally slowing down can make us more grounded and able to pursue more.” Many academic institutions are seeking a balance between pushing the best out of their students, and supporting their mental health. Amplified by the pandemic, there have been many conversations about the youth mental health crisis and its effect on teens. Zimmerli has considered wider conversations about the way teens struggle in the world and at CA, and decided to take action by creating this course.

The objective of the class is to help students find strategies that ground themselves, and practice utilizing these skills in daily life to improve wellbeing. Different practices are effective for different people, so Zimmerli introduces a wide variety of strategies to allow students to explore what works best for them. Some classes include guided meditations and mindful eating, which practices taking bites of food and observing how it feels to taste, chew, swallow, and smell each bite of food. In other classes, students explore the woods outside CA by taking walks and connecting with nature through sensory perception practice. Other practices include but are not limited to journaling, body scans, mindful yoga, puzzling, and coloring.

When we pay full attention to the present moment, like how it feels when a sip of juice hits our taste buds, we are intentionally grounding ourselves in the “now.” When we sit within the present, we can’t simultaneously worry about the future or the past. We can find pleasure, even joy, from the moment we are in. The practices Zimmerli encourages help us introduce positive emotions, even if we are going through hard times.

Zimmerli’s class also incorporates aspects of the course The Science of Well-Being taught at Yale University by Laurie Santos. It is Yale’s most popular course in over 300 years, with over 4 million enrollments since it was created in 2018. All assignments for the course are ungraded—Zimmerli only expects the students to show up, try, and mindfully practice. Individuals who have taken the course have appreciated being forced to step away from the pressure of their to-do list for 70 minutes each week. It is understandable to worry about the future or dwell on the past. However, it’s key to be present for our time in high school, because we will never get to live it again. Anxiety doesn’t disappear when we receive a college acceptance letter—there will always be stress and hardships in life that we can’t control. The skills taught in Zimmerli’s course will help students work through difficult times with resilience. Learning how to take the time to slow down allows students to fully immerse themselves in love of learning, one of CA’s core principles. The value of wellness applies not only to academics, but on the field, in relationships, and every aspect of our lives. Through her course, Zimmerli offers her students the rare opportunity to learn about being and presence. As we transition through CA, these are two of the most powerful skills we can bring to ourselves and into the world.