An out-of-control hockey ball, colliding with his forehead at 80 km, changed Jens van Helden's hectic life. While convalescing from the concussion he suffered, the master's student of Automotive Technology had some wonderful insights. “You need to treat your brain in the same way you treat your body. Just as you train your muscles and give them periods of rest, you need to be putting your brain into relax mode every now and then.”
During his long period of bed rest, Van Helden (now 25) saw an ad on Instagram for a leadership program offered by Eindhoven city council. “Workshops and training sessions for Eindhoven's residents, enabling them to collaboratively set up an initiative of their own to benefit the city's young people. I liked the sound of that.” The members of the random group of Stadsmakers, or "city makers", that Jens was assigned to got on well together. Simply by talking, the group - a mix of students, working people and someone doing a gap year - soon discovered that meaningful conversations were something they all missed having in their lives. “About the way we behave with family, our aim in life, finding a work-life balance, and so on. Nor did we have somewhere we could get this kind of information, somewhere to share it.”
To meet this need, they worked up an idea for an event, to be held in Dynamo, that they named the Brainfreeze Club. It was held in December and it left them wanting more. “It was a success. The leadership course had involved training in public speaking and had given us some good contacts in the municipality. And that's how we got to use the downstairs room at the Dynamo young center as our venue. I myself gave a presentation on a personal issue: managing your smartphone. That thing sucks the energy out of me. I realized this while recovering from my concussion. My tricks for halving your screen time went down well with the audience of thirty people. Set your screen to black and white, for example. That makes watching - and staying glued to - videos a lot less appealing. And put the app you have a weakness for (for me that's YouTube) right at the end.”
The Brainfreeze Club aims to help young people pay attention to their own well-being. An introduction or short workshop is followed by the opportunity to talk, guided by questions BFC organizers have prepared. “The idea is that once you've got this new information, you need to do something to digest it,” says Van Helden. “The questions we ask act as a mirror, as it were. This creates a new awareness, which in turns enables you to change things in your behavior.” But don't expect the BFC to give you any advice, the team prefers to offer tips. “We get you thinking, we don't tell you what to do.”
Every month the BFC hosts a speaker, someone on the team or an external. “Of course, if we don't know the speaker, we talk to them beforehand to find out what they've got to offer and whether they're a good fit with our aim: building mental resilience,” says Van Helden. The city council is helping with the budget and venue as part of its preventive youth policy, at least throughout 2023.
Another side of life
Dynamo is great venue for the club. “It gets us out of our own little bubble. Not everyone here is a student with a laptop, as they are on my program. And not everyone plays hockey. A youth center in the city is a much better place to do this than somewhere on campus. It lets you meet other kinds of people.” Still, Van Helden wants TU/e students to know they are more than welcome to attend, as they are in a minority at the club. After a few sessions, the evenings switched to English and that has drawn a steady number of internationals to Dynamo. “I think students might find it really interesting to chat about mental resilience outside the confines of the uni, with someone who takes a completely different view. It's very different from a lunchtime lecture.”
At the next BFC meeting, held June 1st, TU/e’s Student Diversity Officer Lara Hofstra will speak about setting boundaries. You can sign up here. Follow the club on Insta at @thebrainfreezeclub.