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Wellness Fair brings light touch to weighty issues

Healthy hands-on engagement stirred in Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Bush Campus Center last week as the first Wildcat Wellness Fair shared a wide range of self-care activities. A collaboration of the new Positive Psychology (PSY410) class and Counseling Services, the event filled the CC lobby, stretched down a hallway and poured out onto the portico facing the campus mall. The festive feeling and visible smiles hearkened back to prepandemic days more than two years ago, and appropriately enough stress management, social connection and mental health were the topics of conversation.

At a tabletop “Zen garden,” sand stamps create a pleasing design.
At a tabletop “Zen garden,” sand stamps create a pleasing design.

“PSY410 was approached by Counseling Services to co-host the Wildcat Wellness Fair as students in Positive Psychology study interventions such as mindfulness, service to others and social connection as key to mental well-being,” said Susan Slamka, associate professor of psychology. “After a two-year period of challenging life during a pandemic, campus wellness seemed like an important outreach activity and students were passionate to take on the task and share their skills with others.”

Utilizing the Therapy Assistance Online program, available free to Penn College students and employees, PSY410 students sampled about 25 activities related to mindfulness and self-care. TAO includes more than 150 brief, evidence-based sessions on 50 topics and skills related to mental health, wellness, stress management and substance-use issues. The 14 students then used that information, along with material learned in class, to create seven mindful-based, stress-relieving activities for the Wellness Fair, as well as informational handouts.

“Students worked with partners from class to develop activities ranging from mindful breathing, guided imagery and aromatherapy to creative projects such as affirmation stones, mindful coloring, bottled emotions, and the making of stress balls,” Slamka explained. “They based their interventions on research, classroom experiences, the TAO activities, and consultations with staff from Counseling Services.”

Deanna M. Mancuso, a human services & restorative justice student taking PSY410, believes the event was a success.

“The Wildcat Wellness Fair offered students and staff a chance to make new connections with other people and try different activities that can be a fun way to promote mental health and wellness,” she said. “In the Positive Psychology class, our focus is on the ‘upside’ of psychology. While traditional psychology tends to focus more on disorders and dysfunction, this class in particular does a great job at emphasizing the positive aspects of mental health and ways we can improve our overall well-being. I think the Wellness Fair was a great display of that!”

Melina K. Petrick, pre-dental hygiene, stops by to make a “de-stress ball” with rice and a balloon.
Melina K. Petrick, pre-dental hygiene, stops by to make a “de-stress ball” with rice and a balloon.

In addition to the PSY410 tables, student organizations offering activities at the fair were the Human Services & Restorative Justice Club, Student Athlete Advisory Committee and Wildcat Events Board. In addition to Counseling Services, offices engaged in the offering were Dining Services, Disability & Access Services, the LEAP Center, The Madigan Library and Student Engagement.

One goal of such diversity in participants was to look at self-care and well-being from multiple perspectives. Another objective, furthered by the delineation of three zones – “meditative,” “fidget” and “play” – was to reinforce the need for balance between work/play, feelings/thoughts and being in the moment/being part of the flow of past and future.

Linda L. Locher, a counselor with Counseling Services, said, “The fair came out of a desire to collaborate with faculty in addressing the overall well-being of students,” and that part of the effort was to introduce the campus community to TAO.

The initiative is funded by a second Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration grant to help with suicide prevention, which Locher termed a “prequel” to the previous grant that supported bystander training for laypeople. The focus of the second grant is enhancement of personal care and wellness education, using positive messages to address concerns before they may lead to self-harm or suicidal ideation.

Positive psychology is a relatively newer area of psychology, established in the last 20 years, Slamka noted.

“It involves the scientific study of well-being, life satisfaction, strengths and happiness,” she shared. “Often the things we have become conditioned to believe are associated with happiness and well-being, such as money, awards, goal accomplishment, achievements, and hedonistic enjoyments, are not supported by research. Even the elimination of mental health concerns does not, by itself, bring about flourishing or well-being. What does produce life satisfaction varies by age, gender, individual and cultural factors. However, activities such as mindfulness, self-compassion, kindness, volunteerism, social connection, gratitude, creativity, ascertaining one’s strengths and virtues and living a life consistent with these assets have been supported by research as connected with greater wellness and, in some cases, lowered risk of mental suffering.”

– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor

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