Wellness in Academia

As a parent and a professor in higher education, the topic of “wellness” is one I have come to see as critically important for all members of a higher education community to understand, especially students.  I want- to take this opportunity to share some basic information around the ongoing developments, and related initiatives associated with wellness and campus life.

In general many colleges around the United States are more intentional about providing and implementing wellness programs and centers on their campuses. As a general overview, wellness has now come to address the general well-being of a student’s life. It’s no longer solely directed to academics and stress levels, but rather the current practice is more encompassing of acknowledging the values and decision-making students encounter when trying to live and study on campus. It was not too long ago that the three main tenets of wellness were measured by paying attention to physical fitness, nutrition, and weight loss.  Today those three areas have expanded to include such areas as student purpose; social life; financial status; community engagement; as well as physical and spiritual well-being. 

To demonstrate how this evolution within wellness initiatives resonates on college campuses, here are some key terms or concepts to consider. At the risk of oversimplification, these brief descriptions of key tenets of wellness are only meant to help one get some sense of the tone and tenor of this area of focus.

  • Self-care: In general this is a term that has, and is, becoming more and more connected to wellness initiatives and programs. It’s a basic mindset where one can focus on love and attention for your own body, mind, and soul.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Although not a new concept, it’s a basic tenet for many wellness programs and endeavors. Emotional intelligence refers to one’s skills and abilities to handle one’s emotions, interpersonal relationships, as well as one’s own emotional development and maturity.
  • Mindfulness: This concept alludes to how individuals should strive to enhance one’s consciousness and awareness of the moment. It aims to focus one’s attention to intentionality in all our actions and communications. It’s common to find wellness programs connecting mindfulness to such activities as yoga or meditation.
  • Well-being: This term directly relates to assessing one’s sense of contentment or fulfillment. It’s intended to refer to an overall sense of how ‘well’ one is functioning in life. The term refers to one’s entire spectrum of emotions both physical and spiritual.

The overarching mission of the majority of wellness programs on college campuses is to nurture the mindset, and practice, of understanding the importance of wellness in regards to both professional and personal fulfillment. They attempt to connect the personal factors of challenges and obstacles into one that best addresses non-academic realities in an academic setting; but the overall intent is to make clear students understand how wellness applies to anyone’s life beyond academia. For myself, as a parent and a professional in the classroom, I have come to embrace and share with my children and students, the importance of paying attention to every part of your life when assessing one’s success, challenges and obstacles. Academia is as emotional as it is intellectual. In fact, I have consistently held that going to college and studying, is much more emotional than anyone is led to believe. This is why I sing the praises of wellness programs. Therefore my advice to family members is to encourage your student to practice self-care, pay attention to their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and to seek help when help is needed.

At UMass Amherst, the three main places a student can find out about and receive the services of wellness programs are the Campus Recreation, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, and the Center for Health Promotion. More health related information and resources available on the UMass Amherst campus can be found on the health and safety section of the Student Affairs and Campus Life website.  

For further information, you can visit the web site of The National Wellness Institute. 

George Emilio Sanchez is the parent of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.