Posted by Chris Lord
For the past four years Skidmore has been my home. Throughout my time here I have observed my own behavior and that of my peers. Consistently I have seen academics placed above personal well-being. In fact, just the other night I witnessed a friend typing away at my kitchen table around 10 pm. The next morning I awoke to the same sound of typing. It was 9 am and she had been there all night (however she had written 40 pages). Once again the pressures of school had distracted her from sleeping.
Think of your own experience for a moment. How many hours of sleep have you lost to schoolwork? How many meals have you missed? Has your anxiety about school caused your relationships to suffer? Have you or a friend used Adderall to get work done? Do you or your friends rely on alcohol and/or other drugs to leave the stresses of schoolwork behind? Do you know someone who has had a panic attack because of schoolwork? Do you know someone who is so upset emotionally that he or she cannot keep up in class? Personally, I have witnessed all of this. Is it okay that we go to such extremes to get our work done at Skidmore?
This semester I had the chance to intern at One Roof, a holistic wellness center full of people dedicated to improving personal well-being. So far I have met with a majority of these practitioners, all of whom stress balance as a key to achieving wellness. My question then is how does balance relate to academics at Skidmore?
Academics define what is important at Skidmore. Make something worth academic credit and it is immediately taken more seriously. As a liberal arts school, Skidmore exposes students to a wide variety of subjects in order to receive a well-rounded education. We have many requirements to meet, however none of them have anything to do with personal well-being. This sends the message that writing, natural science, quantitative reasoning, arts, foreign language, and non-western culture/cultural diversity are more important than tools to promote a healthier way of living. I am not saying that learning how to utilize tools for well being is more important than any of these other requirements, but I feel that they should at least be seen as an equal. I am calling for a balance between wellness and academics because, as of now, it feels very disproportionate.
It is true that outside of academics at Skidmore there are groups dedicated to providing students with happier and healthier lives. There is the counseling center, health services, health promotions, FIGHTClub, and the Center for Sex and Gender Relations to name a few. While the work of all these groups is valuable, their messages about how to achieve personal wellness is overrun by the call of papers, lab reports, presentations and tests.
Additionally, it is important to note that there are some classes that provide students with tools toward health and wellness. There are a slew of exercise courses, however these are seen as fillers to most students. They are electives; the term alone suggests that they are less important than the required classes. Past that, there is a 1-credit stress reduction class in the spring semester. This gives only 30 students the chance to learn techniques to live more peaceful lives per school year. As I look at the master schedule, I see that there are six people on the wait list, telling me there is a demand. There is one other option that I am aware of: Psychology of Well Being. A 300 level Psych class, this is a great opportunity to learn about the power of personal well being, if and only if you meet the prerequisites within the department of Psychology. Unfortunately, the professor of this course is retiring and it is unknown whether or not it will continue in the future. Though there may be other opportunities available, these are the select few of which I am aware.
This brings me to the pivotal question. Why does wellness matter, anyway? Personally, I use the techniques I have learned in Stress Reduction and Psych of Well Being more often than what I have learned in a majority of my other classes. There are numerous studies explaining the benefits of wellness activities. A study by Ortner, Kilner, & Zelazo (2007), for example, shows that mindfulness meditation is not only about stress reduction. It is also linked to increase immune function and positive affect. Furthermore, it increases one's ability to focus and be present, making for greater attention control, something that is helpful to retain more during lectures.
The value of awareness and relaxation techniques is becoming more recognized and celebrated. One study implemented these techniques into a public Massachusetts high school (Foret et al., 2012). The study provided 10th and 11th grade students the opportunity to practice relaxation response behaviors taught by The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Relaxation response is meant to teach students to reduce stress and empower students to maximize their potential. Students were exposed to eight 45-minute sessions where they practiced mediation, breath focus, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery/visualization, and yoga. In addition, students were taught about stress awareness and positive psychology through gratitude journals and cognitive restructuring exercises. The results show that students displayed increased health promoting behavior as well as reduced perceived stress and anxiety.
The research is there, so why don't we use it? It is my goal to enhance academics at Skidmore by placing greater emphasis on classes promoting health and wellness. I am not asking that wellness be placed above other academic subjects, but I am asking for balance. As Euripides once said, "The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man."
What do you think? Is wellness at Skidmore valued as much as academic subjects? Should it be? Is the balance I ask for attainable? Whether a student, faculty, staff, or none of the above, I want to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share your thoughts.
Class of 2012