By Stephanie Adamec, Director, Center for Health, Education and Wellness, The University of Scranton
For more than a decade, data has driven health and wellness programming at The University of Scranton, resulting in strong participation and satisfaction scores, as well as innovative initiatives to meet emerging needs.
The University of Scranton’s Center for Health, Education and Wellness (CHEW) has led the way by closely monitoring the “pulse of the campus.” Ideas for health and wellness programming often emerge from common concerns heard by CHEW and Student Life staff members through conversations with students, as well as formal, campus-wide surveys of faculty and staff—here are a few.
Campus Health Assessment
Between 2016 and 2019, CHEW staff analyzed Scranton’s data from the National College Health Assessment to inform services, health promotion offerings, and ongoing department planning and programming. As a result, CHEW has prioritized proactive mental health education and services, in addition to alcohol education, with an increased emphasis on bystander engagement and promotion of the University’s Amnesty/Good Samaritan policy. These efforts aim to further support the University’s mission, and the principle of cura personalis, by encouraging wellness in mind, body and spirit.
Cultivating Mental Wellbeing on Campus
In response to survey data on stress and anxiety, CHEW has prioritized improving, increasing, and promoting programs and services related to stress management, health coping skills, and resiliency. Examples include:
The implementation of free and confidential online mental health screenings for depression, alcohol misuse, generalized anxiety, disordered eating, bipolar and substance use disorder. Upon completion of a screening, students are provided information on the University’s support resources and programs.
The expansion of CHEW’s Weekly Wellness Class Schedule to include daily mindfulness meditation and yoga classes, and class promotions that are tailored to emphasize proactive stress reduction (classes have been held outside and online during the pandemic).
Stress Reduction programs offered by CHEW’s Peer Health Education team, including bi-annual Stress Less Weeks held prior to finals each semester. Stress Less Week includes chair massages, mindfulness meditation, yoga classes, a Blessing of the Brains by Campus Ministry, and a free Late Night Breakfast. Each semester, Stress Less Week events draw more than 3,000 attendees among the undergraduate student population of 4,000.
Cultivating Happiness During the Pandemic
In recognition of the effects that the global lockdown and resulting stress, worry and isolation were having on the mental health of students, staff and faculty last spring, CHEW sprang into action. The goal was to offer innovative and engaging virtual wellness programs that emphasized community-building, while providing evidence-based practices to improve well-being. The result was the creation of the Happiness Habit Challenge: a 3-week program designed to help participants develop habits to promote well-being, spark joy, and emphasize togetherness.
Throughout the Happiness Habit Challenge, participants were challenged to complete four at-home “happiness activities” each week, tracking their progress through a customized weekly log, e-mailed to all participants at the end of each week. Weekly challenges were rooted in subjective well-being and happiness research, and were organized into themes, e.g., connecting with others, completing small acts of kindness, cultivating gratitude, spending time in nature, prioritizing exercise and sleep, and finding humor. Activities were deliberately small, but impactful actions that were easily repeatable, e.g., setting up a study station outside, practicing deep breathing, savoring the beauty of nature, reconnecting with a friend or colleague, thanking an essential worker, sending an encouraging card or text to someone in need, or volunteering remotely.
During an unprecedented time, in which there were many uncertainties, the Happiness Challenge aimed to shift the focus of participants from things beyond their control, to small achievable tasks that could spark joy, promote positivity, and connect them with each other. One participant wrote, “The Happiness Habit Challenges have allowed me to shift my focus from the stress of online learning and to remind myself to take time to enjoy myself.”
Sharing experiences during the Happiness Habit Challenge through photos and reflections was key in building a sense of community among participants and providing inspiration for others to take action. Photos and quotes from students, staff and faculty were shared in weekly participant emails and through social media, reaching the whole campus. One student wrote, “This challenge helped me stay motivated while I was at home. It reminded me that we are still a community even though we are not on campus.”
Happiness Challenge Accepted
More than 400 Scranton community members registered for the Happiness Habit Challenge, with 98 percent of participants reporting that that the experience helped to boost their individual well-being. Spending time in nature, prioritizing social connections, and cultivating gratitude were the challenges that participants reported making the greatest impact on their happiness levels.
“I focused on more positive things instead of letting negative emotions get to me. I also learned to appreciate more little things in my days that made me smile or appreciate life, my family, my friends, how blessed I am, and how we take so many things for granted,” said undergraduate student Katherine Peccerillo.
The overwhelmingly positive outcomes shared by participants throughout the program has solidified Scranton’s decision to bring back the Happiness Habit Challenge each spring, pandemic or not.
Photos courtesy of The University of Scranton.