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Mind, Body, Spirit

Mind, Body, Spirit
Students, faculty and staff practice yoga at one of CHEW’s Weekly Wellness classes, which include Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga.

Students “stress-less” thanks to programs across the University that focus on healthy and balanced lifestyles.

The Jesuits have always been “wellness experts,” according to Stephanie Adamec, the director of the University’s Center for Health Education and Wellness. When she develops wellness programs for students, she follows the Jesuits’ lead. “Jesuit higher education is unique in that it encompasses every dimension of students’ lives — mind, body and spirit.

“We’re seeing a lot about mindfulness these days, but the Jesuits were onto this hundreds of years ago,” she said. “They were ahead of the curve, and what we are doing now at Scranton is ahead of the curve.”

Adamec’s office, known around campus as CHEW, is at the center of a collaborative, cross-campus effort to establish a holistic, multi-dimensional wellness model, which is designed to help students stave off stress and anxiety and foster a healthy community.

“We want to help students create healthy and balanced lifestyles, which takes a lot of knowledge, practice and habit-forming,” said Adamec.

Besides CHEW, a number of other departments contribute to and support wellness programming including, but not limited to, Campus Ministries, the Counseling Center, the Counseling and Human Services Department, Student Health Services, Recreational Sports, the Office of Student Conduct — even University Police. Input from students, both anecdotally and formally, also plays an important role in creating events. In true Jesuit fashion, Adamec said, their goal is to meet the students where they are.

The fall 2016 National College Health Assessment revealed that nearly 80 percent of Scranton students wanted to learn more about stress reduction, and 30 percent said stress negatively impacted their academic performance. With this in mind, the staff at Scranton embarked on the 2017-18 academic year with ambitious goals and exciting plans — all aimed at cultivating stress-coping mechanisms among students.

The Challenge

CHEW runs numerous signature events and programs each year, all designed to educate students about health and wellness: flu shots and blood pressure clinics; yoga, dance and meditation classes; Alcohol Awareness Week; Late Night at Scranton alcohol alternative programming; the Four-week Fitness Challenge; and a “Stress-Less Week” before finals.

Each of these programs overtly connects to wellness, but Adamec and her team wanted students to understand that many of the other resources and programs offered on campus do, too. So they developed the campus’s first Mind Body Spirit Challenge to include events outside of CHEW’s offerings.

PHOTO: The Peer Health Education Team at CHEW’s Glow & Flow Late Night Glow Yoga Event. More than 500 students attended this annual fall event, which served as a kickoff to the Mind Body Spirit Challenge.

Over four weeks, 11 departments hosted 45 events that were focused on three categories of wellness — mind, body and spirit. The challenge to students? Attend at least one event from each wellness category.

“The hope is that they understood that a program that they wouldn’t have thought of as wellness before the challenge — like an event at the Multicultural Center, the volunteer and service fair, or Safe Zone training to increase awareness of LGBT+ communities — contributes to their overall wellness,” said Adamec. “We wanted them to try something new, outside of their comfort zone, and look at wellness in these three different ways.”

"A holistic approach to both physical and mental health can assist us in living lives that we enjoy." — Gerianne Barber, director of the Counseling Training Center

Clear Mind

As part of the Mind Body Spirit Challenge, CHEW partnered with the graduate counseling department to offer free mental health screenings, in the hopes of combatting the stigma around mental health.

“We go to the doctor with physical concerns to be well. The same is true in that discussing mental health concerns we are promoting wellness. A holistic approach to both physical and mental health can assist us in living lives that we enjoy,” said Gerianne Barber, the director of Scranton’s Counselor Training Center.

For two days in October, graduate counseling students offered depression and anxiety screenings in the DeNaples Center. The benefits were two-fold: Graduate students used their skills and training to serve the community, and students who took advantage of the screenings learned tactics for coping with stress.

“College is a time of major transitions, which can be both an exciting time and a time of increased stress and vulnerability,” said Barber. “In the midst of that, it is important to promote an environment where students know it is OK to ask for help. We don’t want them to feel overwhelmed or alone.”

Gabriel Gross G’18 facilitated the screenings for fellow students and found that some participated enthusiastically, while others were more tentative.

“We are not always afforded safe havens to discuss mental health in our daily lives. For some, this event might have felt like a strange oasis in a desert of taboo topics,” said Gross. “When I sat down with the students to discuss the results of their assessments, many of the defensive walls seemed to come down. They left the encounter with what seemed to be a sense of gratitude, greater self-awareness and, in a few cases, renewed courage to seek counseling.”

Counseling is one way that students can manage their stress, and Mindfulness Meditation class is another. Mindfulness teacher Lisa Rigau leads students in meditation and awareness exercises, which encourages living in the present moment.

“Mindfulness reduces anxiety, depression, and emotional and physical pain,” said Rigau. “It’s great for memory and attention and allows us to focus on our thoughts and emotions. We can have a better sense of why we’re doing things and can make better decisions.”

Strong Body

Sometimes, the best way to deal with stress is to get out of the mind and move the body — and Scranton students have plenty of opportunities to do that, with an intramural program that was ranked 18th in the country by The Princeton Review.

“We have a very active campus; nearly 1,500 students participate annually in our 13 intramural sports,” said Janice Winslow, the director of Recreational Sports. “Learning how to deal with stress effectively, through positive means such as exercise, is critical at this juncture in students’ lives, and will serve them well as they move on from Scranton.”

Besides team sports, Scranton offers a robust Fitness Center, racquetball courts and group exercise classes — including new spin classes that draw 400 students a week.

Nourished Spirit

Some students wanted to combine their fitness routine with prayer, and thus, the Fit and Faithful workout class was born. Twice a week, students gather for a circuit training exercise class with a unique beginning: a prayer dedicating the workout to a special intention.

Not all prayer at Scranton involves sweating, though. Campus Ministries offers 25 retreats each year, from a Connections retreat designed for first-year students to silent retreats rooted in Ignatian spirituality. Catholic Mass takes place daily, along with opportunities for students of all faiths to use the interfaith prayer room; Muslim students attend their Friday prayer service at the campus mosque.

“For many students, college is the first time that they are looking at their faith from an adult perspective,” said Helen Wolf, Ph.D., executive director of Campus Ministries. “We each have a faith that is given to us by our families, but now is the time for students to shape their faith, to develop a healthy spirituality.”

Set Up for Success

Student Health Services is also involved in fostering healthy and balanced lifestyles for students. Every visit to the Roche Wellness Center — whether the student is there with a sore throat or an ankle sprain — includes a proactive wellness intervention, a simple set of questions addressing timely topics for college students.

PHOTO: CHEW’s Peer Health Education Team makes fresh fruit smoothies at the Study Smoothly Event during Stress Less Week in November.

“Generally, there is something we can counsel on at each visit, whether its nutrition, sleep or stress reduction,” said Peggy Mannion, CRNP, director of Student Health Services. “We could remind them to get a flu shot, or it could lead to a deeper conversation about their lifestyle, or maybe a referral to the Counseling Center.”

From August-November 2017, Student Health Services conducted 3,389 wellness interventions, and Mannion likes to think of it as their own way of contributing to student success.

And it’s not just the Scranton staff who wants to help students succeed — so do their peers. Both Nick Bendixen ’18 and Katie Murray ’18 joined CHEW’s Peer Health Educator team to be leaders and advocates for wellness among the student body.

“Friends and strangers alike tell me what a difference some of our events have made for them, all the time,” said Bendixen, an exercise science major.

Lauren Tomasic ’18, an exercise science and philosophy major and member of the ultimate Frisbee team, agreed.

Students celebrate after their intramural flag football game.

“I feel so lucky to be a part of a school where faculty, staff, administration and peers care so much about me as an individual — my growth, my success and my happiness,” said Tomasic. “There are so many opportunities at Scranton that have helped me develop every part of myself: retreats, clubs and intramurals.”

The gratitude of students like Tomasic is echoed in the 87 percent of Scranton students who self-reported their health as good or excellent.

“We want students to understand that the foundation of being well — in mind, body and spirit — enables them to be successful,” said Anitra McShea, Ph.D., vice provost of Student Formation and Campus Life. “Our students are under pressure to get a good job, which they equate with having a good life. But Scranton is not just about educating students so they can get a job. That is certainly important, but alongside that is the development and formation of the individual to realize whom they are called to be.

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