What is Wellness?

It's almost a new school year! You’ve jumped through the hurdles of getting into college, figuring out financial aid, where you’re going to live, and you may have already signed up for your fall classes. You’ve taken care of all the logistics of getting yourself to college and this stage of your life – but are you taking care of you?

The SPU Wellness Initiative is here to provide you with information and resources to help you succeed at SPU. Wellness includes physical, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual, environmental and occupational wellness. From helping you figure out how to navigate mental health, academic stress, and how to maintain healthy eating habits to managing procrastination and planning for the future. Throughout the school year there are weekly posts on various topics posted here and on our Facebook for you to check out.

As September gets closer you may be feeling the upcoming stress as you transition into the identity of a college student. You’re going to start new relationships, take on responsibilities, and navigate many new experiences. What are some ways you can manage this transition?

  1. Set realistic expectations while you transition
    • Yes, you will want to get straight A’s, be involved in on-campus activities and attend social events. Try to set realistic expectations and goals. You don’t have to be perfect and we all know FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing.
  1. Be kind and treat yourself
    • Try to take an hour a day to unwind – close your laptop, put away that heavy textbook and do an activity you enjoy. You might feel selfish for not spending 24/7 studying, but your brain will thank you later.
  1. Plan ahead and be mindful of your time
    • One of the simplest ways to combat academic stress is to plan ahead. Jotting down when your next test is coming up or when the next social event is will save you a lot of time and worry later on. Being mindful of how you’re spending your time will also help prevent the dreaded phenomenon of procrastination.

Taking time to think about how you can better take care of yourself will pay off in the future and will make your college experience more enjoyable. Here's to a new academic year and one with a focus on wellness!

 

Faculty Spotlight: Natural Environment Benefits

As technology has increasingly become a prominent part of everyday life, outdoor activities often take a backseat. Arguably, students spend more time viewing other’s experiences on Facebook, Instagram and other social media than they do creating their own. It’s been documented that heavy use of technology and social media are linked to increased depressive and anxiety symptoms. Taking a break from technology and spending time indoors may have mental health benefits as spending time participating in outdoor activities and natural environments have been linked to increased self-efficacy, mindfulness and concentration.1,2

Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief that they can complete a task or succeed. Unsurprisingly, a higher sense of self-efficacy may be a preventative factor against the negative mental health impact of stress and other stressors students may face over the summer. As students are accustomed to their performance being measured by academics throughout the school year, students may find increased self-efficacy from physical and leisurely activities, such as hiking, camping, swimming, volleyball, and other outdoor experiences and sports.

Similarly, mindfulness, which refers to an individual’s ability to be present in the moment, may also see a boost when in natural environments. The college environment requires constant multi-tasking and can keep students in a perpetual state of heightened arousal due to the flexibility required to perform well in multiple classes and extracurriculars.1 In comparison, natural environments allow for more sustained attention and self-directed attention to the individual’s own thoughts and feelings.1

Attentional restoration theory (ART) suggests that urban environments, such as college campuses, may induce cognitive fatigue, impacting students’ ability to concentrate.2 As natural environments are considered restorative due to the decrease in executive-based attention that they require, it is beneficial for students to take time away from technology and urban environments to explore the outdoors, with summer being the prime time for outdoor experiences.

Summer is the ideal time for students to reset, relax, and prepare for the next year of school. Some students will utilize this time to plan outdoor adventures and immerse themselves in restorative environments. However, it is important to reach out and promote the mental health benefits of outdoor activities and environments to students that either reside in urban environments or may not realize the mental health benefits of the outdoors. Fortunately, reaping the benefits of natural environments can be as easy as reading a book outdoors instead of indoors. For students and faculty residing in Seattle over the summer, although SPU is in an urban environment, Seattle has a natural abundance of outdoor opportunities with easy access to parks and water. Lastly, it’s important to benefit from the sunshine in Seattle while it lasts!

1Mutz, M. & Müller, J. (2016). Mental health benefits of outdoor adventures: Results from two pilot studies. Journal of Adolescence, 49, 105-114. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.03.009

2 Pearson, D. G. & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(1178), 1-4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178

Faculty Spotlight: Summer Mental Health

Summer is the three months out of the year that, for many college students, is a time for fun recreational activities and a breather from the stress of classes. However, moving away from campus for the summer, leaving the productive academic environment, and changing relationships due to distance may actually be stressful. With approximately one-third of U.S. college students experiencing depressive symptoms (2013 National College Health Assessment), it is important to be aware of the potential mental health challenges college students will face over the summer.

Depression is a mental health condition, prevalent among college students. Symptoms of depression range from persistently sad, anxious, or "empty" mood, feelings of hopelessness, decreased energy, difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. The transition from the routine and high-stress environment of college life to a less structured summer, can be stressful. The link between stress and depression can be seen through a shift from healthy and adaptive coping strategies during stressful events or transitions, allowing depressive symptoms to persist. The stress, coping, and depressive symptom cycle can be reoccurring, having a detrimental impact on mood, life satisfaction and productivity.

However, there are strategies students can employ prior to and during summer break to mitigate the potential negative consequences of the summer transition. Planning for activities, such as an internship or job, can stave off the anxiety-producing feeling of unproductivity. Additionally, students should be encouraged to take the summer break to explore and do the things they are unable to during the school year, such as camping, physical exercise, or making their way through a fun book list. Summer goals may be especially helpful for those students who are involved in multiple on campus activities and perform best under college stress.

Anticipating changing relationships due to summer break may also be beneficial for students. Students living on campus will be accustomed to living and being surrounded by peers. The transition from this stimulating social environment may be stressful for some, producing feelings of loneliness. Similarly, as relationships become strained due to distance, it’s important for students to be aware of the potential for relationships to change in intensity and closeness. Technology and social media may be helpful in staving off some of the feelings of loneliness, however, social media can also be anxiety producing as students view and see their friends having fun without them. Open discussions and realistic social expectations for summer may better prepare students for the shift from school to summer.

Summer mental health and prevention are important for college students as they will not have access to college campus mental health services, such as the counseling center. Fortunately, students can employ strategies such as summer goal planning and facilitating conversations around changing relationships to circumvent depressive symptoms.

Technology-Based Mental Health Resources

Mental health problems are prevalent on college campuses. As technology continues to expand into almost every corner of our culture, the mental health field has also began to embrace technology as a method to reach those in need of support for mental health problems. Technology-based mental health services can be a helpful option for students who need support and are not ready to try traditional counseling, may be on a waitlist for counseling services, or may prefer getting support via their smartphone.

Research suggests that technology-based interventions for mental health show promise among college students for improving depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress. A brief search in your App Store can quickly show that there are many different kinds of resources aimed at helping with a wide range of mental health problems. There are Apps that allow you to text with a therapist and others that provide mood tracking or relaxation services.

If you are interested in trying out some of these services, here are some resources to get you started:

Faculty Spotlight: Technology and Mental Health

There’s no denying the ubiquity of technology in students’ daily lives. We are already beginning to see how technology, especially social networking sites, impacts how we live, work, and communicate with each other. Given that technology impacts many other parts of our lives, it makes sense that technology also has an impact on students’ mental health.

Emerging research suggests that technology has both positive and negative impacts on mental health. Technology use has been linked to depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. Sleep can also ben impacted by technology use. Using a smartphone or tablet right before bed can make it harder to get to sleep. Technology has also been related to addictive qualities both with games and checking your devices.

Technology and social media also impact how students communicate by allowing 24/7 access to their peers. Rates of cyberbullying in college students are lower than those among high school-ers, but research suggests that almost 1 in 5 college students experiences cyberbullying. Social media has also been related to isolation from others because rather than connecting with others in person, students are spending more time online. Associated with isolation, social media has been related to the phenomenon of “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO. FOMO is when it appears that others are having fun without you, and your worry about being left out.

On the other hand, technology can also have positive effects in students’ lives. Many students use technology to stay connected with friends and family. Technology also offers students the ability to access information quickly and can be a source of support. The mental health field is in the nascent stages of embracing technology as a means to provide services to more people. Students can use their smartphone for a wide range of supportive activities, like using a relaxation app, engaging with an online support network, or talking to their therapist. Technology can also encourage students to be active or get involved in their community through activity trackers and events promoted on their social networking sites.

As technology continues to change and grow, we will likely see different effects on how students use technology and how it impacts mental health. The bottom line is that technology and social media can be both positive, providing support and connection, and negative, a platform for cyberbullying and FOMO – it comes down to how it’s being used.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Spotlight on Stigma

Stigma against mental health can lead college students who are struggling with mental health problems to feel ashamed and prevent them from seeking the help they need. Stigma refers to negative attitudes toward, and misperceptions or stereotypes about people with mental health problems. Research shows that about 50% of students with mental illness do not talk about their mental health problems. One of the top reasons they cite for not disclosing their struggles is fear of stigma or that it would change how they were perceived and treated by others.

There are many different types of stigma that students encounter. Self-stigma is the self-blame and negative beliefs about oneself due to mental health problems. Public stigma are the myths and misinformation about people with mental health problems that leads to negative attitudes in the general population. Label stigma is when a person’s whole identity is assigned to a diagnostic label. An example of label stigma is saying, “She’s bipolar” because it is equating someone’s identity with a mental health problem. Stigma by association is the experience of feeling stigmatized because you are close to someone who has a mental health problem.

Since stigma against mental illness can negatively impact students who are struggling, their loved ones, and the larger community, it’s important to think about different ways we can combat the stigma. Here are some ways that you can lessen the stigma of mental illness:

  • Talk openly about mental health – mental health problems are widespread, and keeping them a secret contributes to feelings of shame
  • Educate yourself and others about mental health
  • Be conscious of language – many people get labeled as “crazy” or “psycho,” which can be hurtful for people struggling with mental illness
  • Show empathy and compassion towards those who are struggling
  • See the person, not the illness
  • Get involved in advocacy efforts to end stigma and promote mental health

You can make a big difference towards ending stigma and promoting a healthier community!

Mental Health Awareness Month: Asking for Help Effectively

We all go through times that are difficult, whether we are feeling overwhelmed by school, dealing with relationship conflicts, or feeling anxious or depressed. During those times, it can feel hard to ask for help. Some people say that they don’t ask for help or support because they are worried about being a burden on someone else, being rejected, or appearing weak. Others say that they don’t ask for help because they are afraid of admitting they are out of control.

It can be helpful to remember that everyone needs support sometimes, and that it’s ok to ask for help. Consider how you would feel if your friend asked for help. You would likely be happy to help your friend, and it might even strengthen your relationship. Another reason that many people don’t ask for help is because they aren’t sure how to ask for help effectively. If you notice that you are struggling, here are some ways to effectively manage the situation:

  1. You can try to cope on your own. Sometimes all you need is to use your emotion regulation skills to feel better.
  2. If you coping on your own doesn’t work or isn’t enough, try distracting yourself with other people. Identify 2-3 people you can call, text, or hang out with to distract yourself, and get your mind off your problems.
  3. Ask for help from family or friends. Identify a family member or a close friend who you can trust. It should be someone who you can ask for help coping with your problems.
  4. Sometimes you need more help, and in that case, you can seek professional help. Some helpful resources are:
    1. Counseling Center
    2. Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255)
    3. Finding a therapist in Seattle
  5. If you are in crisis, you may need immediate assistance. In that case you should call 9-1-1 or Campus Safety (206-281-2911). Another step you can take is to make your environment safer. If you are feeling suicidal, remove things from your room, apartment, or house that you could use to harm yourself with.

Remember, we all need help sometimes, and whatever the problem is, you can do things to help yourself, or ask for help from people you trust.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Spotlight on Suicide

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among college students in the US, with over 1,000 suicides on college campuses each year. Beyond those who die by suicide, many more have experienced suicidal thoughts. Research suggests that 1 in 10 students report having suicidal ideation.

Some of the risk factors for suicide among college students, include depression or another mental health problem, a past history of suicide, impulsivity, loss of a social network, loss of a relationship, and being in a new environment. Many students also experience college level academics as more demanding, and may have decreased academic performance and subsequent feelings of failure. Substance use increases risk for suicidal behavior, and male students are more than two times more likely to die by suicide than female students.

Suicide on college campuses is a major problem and should be taken seriously. There are some protective factors that students may have, including:

  • Supportive social and family network
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to cope and regulate strong emotions
  • A positive view of the future
  • Religious or cultural beliefs that discourage suicide
  • Access to mental health care

If you are worried about a friend or classmate who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out to offer support. Here are some things you may consider when reaching out:

  • Express your concern – try saying “I’m worried about you”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about suicide directly. Asking a friend about suicide won’t increase their risk of suicide.
  • Listen, show interest, offer support, and take it seriously.
  • Don’t promise to keep secrets – always seek more support when needed
  • Help your friend find assistance
    • Talk with your RA
    • Counseling Center
    • Campus Safety (206-281-2911)
    • Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255)
  • If your friend is in imminent or immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or campus safety

Mental health problems are treatable, and suicide is preventable. Supporting your friends and classmates and connecting them with help goes a long way to preventing suicide.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Spotlight on Anxiety

Among college students, rates of anxiety are high, and according to some studies, may be even higher than the rates of depression. Anxiety is typically viewed as a reaction to stress or uncertainty – and college students experience a lot of stress and uncertainty. In the short term, anxiety is adaptive and helps us overcome the immediate challenge, like a midterm or final or big presentation. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to escape from the onslaught of stressors during college, when you have academic stress, social stress, and maybe even family stress to deal with.

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, and small to moderate amounts of anxiety can help motivate us to perform well, remain cautious, and prepare for upcoming challenges. However, when feelings of intense fear, anxiety, or nervousness are overwhelming, they may interfere with our day-to-day lives and become problematic.

In addition to the feelings of fear or anxiety, many people also experience physical changes related to anxiety. These can be muscle tension, restlessness, pounding or racing heart, shortness of breath, upset stomach, sweating, tremors, headaches, fatigue, and gastrointestinal distress.

If you notice that you are starting to get overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, there are some simple things you can do to counteract your symptoms. Check out some of our previous posts on tips for managing stress:

For some students, using these stress management and relaxation strategies will help relieve their anxiety. Other students may need additional support to deal with their anxiety. If you need support for anxiety, consider making an appointment with the counseling center, or joining one of their groups.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Spotlight on Depression

This month we celebrate Mental Health Month! Mental health problems impact about 1 in 5 Americans, and on college campuses those numbers are even higher. The good news is that there is help available for many mental health problems, and students with mental health problems are able to succeed in school and in their lives after college. Mental Health Month is all about raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems. This month, the blog will focus on raising awareness about common problems students experience and examining the stigma associated with mental health.

One of the most common mental health conditions that college students report is depression. Approximately 27% of students nationwide say that they are living with depression. Depression is a mood disorder that is more than just having a bad mood every once and a while. There are many symptoms that students experience differently.

Women and men may also experience depression differently. The rates of depression are typically higher among women compared to men. Women who experience depression typically endorse the symptoms of sadness, worthlessness, and guilt. On the other hand, men are more likely to report feeling very tired, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities. Some research has found the cultural pressure to act “manly” and not show self-doubt or sadness may account for this difference. The sadness that some men feel may come out as anger and irritability instead.

Here are some of the common signs that you may notice in yourself or a friend:

  • Avoiding regular hobbies, and instead gravitating towards activities that require little effort, like TV, video games, or surfing the web
  • Sleep changes or difficulties – this can include not being able to fall asleep, waking up many times during the night, waking up early, or sleeping during the day
  • Eating changes – some people eat more, and others eat less
  • Anger or irritability
  • Expressing negative thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Aches and pains that won’t seem to go away

Knowing the signs of depression may help you know whether you or someone you care about may be struggling. If you are worried about someone, try reaching out to them to offer support. You may also consider making an appointment with the counseling center.