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Wellness means more than staying safe from COVID-19

March 29, 2021
Students using the on-campus gym to weight lift

From fitness goals to stress relief, York College of Pennsylvania is helping students take care of their physical and mental wellness.

It’s easy to get caught up in the reoccurring messages about how to stay well in a pandemic. Wash your hands. Wear a face mask. Practice social distancing. “We know that wellness is so much more than keeping safe from COVID-19,” says Rachael Finley, Director of Campus Recreation at York College of Pennsylvania. “Taking care of our bodies and our mental health goes far beyond the current pandemic.”

COVID-19 has reemphasized the need for everyone to take care of themselves. Through a series of events, challenges, and campus-wide goals, York College is helping students make wellness a priority.

Why physical and mental health go hand-in-hand

Exercise releases endorphins that help us feel good and relieve stress, Finley says. A quick walk around the block can give someone a change of scenery, some fresh air, and bring some movement to the day. But, Finley also wants to see students challenging their bodies to move. Walks are great, but without increasing the heart rate, she says, it’s not doing much for your cardiovascular system.

Through her oversight with the Student Wellness Committee, Finley has been helping educate students on the various ways in which wellness plays into campus life. The Wellness Passport Program encourages students to tap into various areas of wellness, including physical, emotional, environmental, and social. By completing activities in each of those categories, students are entered into raffles for prizes.

“I hope students can use that challenge to think of wellness in ways they may not have before,” Finley says. “If students can focus on their well-being, they’ll do better academically, they’ll perform better at work, and they’ll find it helps them form healthier relationships.”

Taking stock of your mental well-being

Kayla Bailey, Coordinator of Sexual/Relationship Violence Prevention, wanted to tap into her community connections to help students work through the added stress of living in a pandemic. With the help of the YWCA ACCESS-York team, Bailey organized the Winter Wellness Series, which invited students to sit in on a one-hour Zoom call once a week and learn some strategies for managing mental health.

“Everyone is exposed to some level of grief even while they may not be directly affected by COVID-19,” Bailey says. “We have all been exposed to some level of collective trauma through news, social media, and everything else going on around us.”

A lot of students are working through the loss of experiences—through normal campus activities, classroom setup, and socializing. For some students, it’s about maintaining a healthy perspective of what the college experience will be like in the future, Bailey adds.

“We hope we can do sessions like this going forward,” she says. “We had some great feedback and participation from students. We know this is important to their overall success as students.”

10 tips to take care of your health

Want to start taking better care of your physical and mental health? Here are some simple ways you can start today:

  1. Drink more water. The standard of eight cups, or 64 ounces, of water a day should be a minimum, Finley says. Depending on physical activity or health needs, some people may need up to 128 ounces. By consuming about 2/3 of your water intake by 1 p.m. each day, you’ll also feel less hungry and stressed when the midafternoon crankies kick in.
  2. Get at least seven hours of sleep. While a lot of people struggle with this challenge, it’s one of the best ways to take care of yourself.
  3. Do three intentional workouts a week. Aim for workouts that total about 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
  4. Stretch 10 minutes a day, five times a week. Even athletes who work out the most and eat the healthiest struggle with stretching, Finley says.
  5. Walk to class instead of driving. It’s better for you and the environment.
  6. Turn your phone off when studying. You’ll focus better and have fewer distractions.
  7. Read a book (that isn’t required reading). Getting lost in a book can be a great way to take a mental break.
  8. Be aware of what relaxes you and how your body responds to stress. Meditation might not be for everyone, Bailey says. Some people find other focused activities to be relaxing, such as cooking, walking, drawing, or listening to music.
  9. Talk to someone. With fewer opportunities to interact in-person, it’s important that students are intentional with their social wellness. Schedule phone calls, send letters, or find opportunities to interact in safe ways.
  10. Optimism vs. positivity. It’s okay to recognize that things are hard right now, Bailey says. Positivity is the idea that everything is going great, while optimism is having hope for the future.