The number of college students who report experiencing stress and anxiety in their daily lives has increased 20 percent over the past five years, according to the American Institute of Stress.
While there is no cure for anxiety, there are a number of ways to cope. Sleeping, meditating, talking to trusted friends and reading are common ways to manage stress and anxiety.
However, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 14 percent of people use regular exercise to deal with stress and suggests that exercise is the coping mechanism most recommended by health care officials.
The Allegheny College Wellness Committee is focused on making sure students have resources to help them cope with stress and anxiety through a number of wellness initiatives.
“The wellness committee has been in existence for a long time,” said Jane Ellen Nickell, Allegheny College chaplain. “When I arrived 13 years ago, they were just appointing an associate dean of students for wellness.”
The main goal of establishing an associate dean of students for wellness was to create programming for students that promoted a healthy lifestyle.
“The goal was not just to take care of people when they get sick or injured, and I say that not just in terms of physical, but emotional and spiritual, to really help cultivate habits in students that lead to living lives of wellness,” Nickell said.
Even though the committee has been in existence for over a decade, the Dean of Students Office has been overwhelmed with other responsibilities, therefore not making the wellness committee a priority, according to Nickell.
“The Dean of Students Office has so many other pressures on it,” Nickell said. “There are a couple of others of us that work with the leadership of that committee.”
Nickell pointed to Tricha Young, office manager in Student Leadership and Involvement, as someone who has been influential in leading the committee.
“We are definitely just trying to figure out what is it that students seem to want and need,” Young said. “We know stress is a big issue.”
Allegheny College’s Director of Peak Performance Bayu Purnomo is another representative who sits on the wellness committee.
Occasionally, students meet with the committee to provide a student perspective — however, according to Nickell, the committee is comprised mainly of staff.
“Our students are so busy,” Young said. “What we are doing is talking. In our suite alone, we have maybe 14 students who work with us that we bounce ideas off.”
The wellness committee includes representatives from Student Leadership and Involvement, Counseling and Professional Development, Spiritual and Religious Life, Dean of Students Office, Athletics, Parkhurst and Winslow Health Center.
“Winslow Health Center is very interested, but because of how small their staff is and when they meet, it is hard for them to get (to wellness committee meetings),” Nickell said.
The committee functions by meeting in smaller groups and then collectively as a committee twice a month. These smaller groups organize various initiatives for the wellness committee.
For example, Assistant Dean of Students Joe Hall worked with a handful of students to create the fanny packs that were handed out during Springfest that included water, snacks and information about alcohol poisoning to encourage students to take care of themselves and one another.
The wellness committee also worked to put together its second step challenge of the academic year.
“The goal was to get people, especially coming out of the winter when you are typically very inactive, to encourage people to just start moving,” Nickell said.
The Spring Step Challenge was designed to be longer than the fall challenge, lasting four weeks instead of two. However, no students registered to participate.
“We did not succeed in our goal of getting more students involved,” Nickell said.
Purnomo, as well as other committee members, are looking into a number of possible explanations for the lack of student involvement.
“If students have input, by all means, get that info to me or get that info to the wellness committee,” Purnomo said.
Although the Spring Step Challenge did not go as planned, Young still considers the challenge a success.
“It has still been very good, healthy banter among (employees) and people are walking more,” Young said.
The wellness committee has been working on a handful of other projects that have had higher rates of student turnout.
Nickell suggested the committee’s main success is its weekly wellness calendar which was started in the spring of 2018.
“We look at all of the events that are going on across campus, and we say we have all these different dimensions of wellness,” Nickell said. “What is going on on campus that would fit under any of those dimensions and can we at least fit them under the umbrella of wellness.”
Strength training, yoga and cardio are the more commonly known wellness initiatives hosted by the college, but Nickell suggests other activities, such as attending a baseball game, also contribute to a student’s overall wellness because it is social and creates a sense of community.
“A lot of stress that student-athletes and students in general cope with revolves around time management,” Purnomo said. “Definitely try to minimize that stress by staying organized.”
However, Purnomo also explained that not all stress is avoidable, so students must develop healthy coping mechanisms.
As students head into finals, Purnomo suggested taking a break from studying and taking a walk around campus instead of turning to a tub of ice cream for comfort.
“Physical activity is not just exercise for the body, it actually helps the brain,” Purnomo said.
Additionally, the wellness committee is working with residence life to provide students with a treat as they study for finals.
“We will either be doing fruit or protein bars,” Young said. “There will be something to let students come and have a break.”