If you have ever picked up a free banana smoothie or granola bar from your school’s wellness week booths, you are not alone.
Free food is great, and schools do seem to care more about wellness than they used to, but I still find myself asking: how is this enough?
The cultural and emotional focus on wellness at our schools is a welcome step in the right direction. Wellness week programs that offer classes, counseling sessions, and food are absolutely to be welcomed, if only as an important signal of the value a school places on student wellness.
But are wellness week programs really enough? The wellness week approach to well-being skims over the possibility that the school may be partly responsible for the problem it is trying to solve. Have schools made decisions that acknowledge the impact it has made on the students it serves?
Let’s take law school as an example. When we talk about well-being, we tend to mean physical and mental health and stress relief. We know that key drivers of student stress include long study hours, loneliness, isolation and fierce competition, which often leads to poor performance and unhappy students.
So what do schools do? They offer counseling sessions, and remind students that their doors are always open. Again, this is not a bad thing but what if schools started addressing the problems themselves: if students are feeling lonely and isolated, why haven’t we made a stronger attempt to reconnect them?
Social health is integral to our well-being, and it’s just as important as eating well, sleeping well, and exercising. The constitution of the World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Focusing on social health would address the gap in social well-being at schools by focusing on how people connect and communicate. A growing body of research shows that the need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water and shelter.
When it comes to being social, there are a ton of benefits. Having strong social bonds is as good for you as quitting smoking. Connecting with other people, even in the most basic ways, also makes you happier—especially when you know they need your help. In a way, evolution has made bets at each step that the best way to make us more successful is to make us more social. Our schools can, and should, help make that happen.
In order to eat better, sleep better and be better, we need support. Change is a really emotional process. If you are striving to make a lifestyle modification, talking to someone else about the change you want to make will help you solidify your plan.
Schools can implement tools like the Sweatours wellness App to connect students across campus, and across the country, or they can come up with their own ways to help people connect.
School can be an exciting, but dauntingly large, new world. Ask yourself how your school is helping you get the social support you need. The right school environment will give you the tools you need to form a social spider web where. one connection will lead to another, and another, and another. Before you know it, you can create a beautiful web of understanding, and of friends.
“I love those connections that make this big old world feel like a little village.”Gina Bellman