When Stacy Stocks arrived at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska last year to take over as dean of students, she knew years of stress and overwork had taken a toll on her body with weight gain and other nagging health problems.
Early in the school year, she noticed advertisements for Union’s new “Warrior Wellness” program challenging students and employees to focus on improving their physical and mental health.
“I didn’t participate because I didn’t know how,” recalled Stocks. “I had transitioned from a job that was all-consuming and didn’t allow for good self-care. I didn’t think I had the time.”
The Warrior Wellness challenges—drinking enough water, getting adequate rest, and even understanding how to manage stress—made Stocks realize her new employer and fellow employees cared about her physical wellbeing and recognized the importance of taking time to be healthy. While she didn’t immediately begin participating in the wellness program, the ideas from the campus-wide communication encouraged her to make a change.
On New Year’s Day, Stocks embarked on a journey to lose 40 pounds by her 40th birthday at the end of July. She embraced the principles promoted by Warrior Wellness and “Weight Watchers”– a popular, international weight-loss program – and began eating in moderation. She began a regular exercise program walking in Union’s arboretum. To keep up her motivation and accountability, Stocks joined the “Wellness Walking Class” for employees.
“The wellness program then challenged us to get more sleep,” said Stocks. “Schedules and responsibilities make that difficult, but for the first time in more than two decades, I focused on getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night.”
Stocks was not the only employee to stay involved in the Warrior Wellness challenges, and that didn’t go unnoticed by students like Joslyn Lewis.
“I was motivated seeing which staff and faculty members were getting involved,” said Lewis of the Warrior Wellness participants. “It was something for us to do together as a campus.”
A senior education major from California, Lewis took the healthy eating and fitness class last school year because she needed more health credits. She saw the program as a way to bring structure to the new practices she learned in class.
Even though Lewis didn’t earn a top prize in the “water challenge,” she began focusing on consistently drinking a healthy amount each day.
“I discovered that herbal tea counts, too,” said Lewis, switching to a British accent. “So, I got different tea flavors, and now I’m one of those tea people.”
As she battled with the stress of school, the "stress challenge" helped Lewis understand the importance of regular relaxation.
“I’ve really been intentional about taking time to rest,” said Lewis. “It’s not necessarily sleeping but taking time to paint or draw or even taking additional breaks from my usual schedule.”
She immediately discovered the difference when she took time off from studying to create art or read. “It definitely changed my energy level,” explained Lewis. “My interactions with people seem to be better when I’m taking those moments to relax.”
Setting Goals and Gaining Rewards
“We want to impact our students and faculty and help them learn how to incorporate positive health choices into their daily lives,” said Larinda Fandrich, director of the Warrior Wellness program.
Fandrich, an assistant professor of nursing at Union, who is currently working on a doctorate degree in nursing practice, with an emphasis in lifestyle medicine, was tasked with leading the program because of her passion for helping people lead healthy lives. She formed a committee and partnered with Tammy Adams, the campus nurse, to develop a two-year rotation of six-week challenges to help students and employees better understand how the eight principles of wellness outlined by AdventHealth’s CREATION Life impact their lives.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, the campus embraced challenges that focused on physical activity, rest, water, and stress. The focus for the current school year is nutrition, trust, relationships, and outlook.
Each challenge sets specific goals and awards prizes for consistent participation. Warrior Wellness events take place throughout the school year to bring more attention to healthy life choices.
While “Unionites” like Stocks and Lewis may not participate in every challenge, the cumulative effect has led to healthier living.
“I’m not a scheduler, but now I think about taking the time to drink water or take a break from studying. I put more time into taking care of myself," said Lewis.
Stocks did lose 40 pounds by her birthday in July and set a goal to lose another 35 by the end of the year. Her husband joined her on the journey and has lost nearly 50 pounds. She credits Union for their success.
“Becoming an employee at Union College allowed me to care for my health in a way I didn’t have the time, strength, or encouragement to do before,” said Stocks.
— Ryan Teller is public relations director for Union College; the original article appeared in Outlook Magazine from the Mid-America Union.