By Emily Rosenberg
On any given day, Kate Burt might print out QR codes and flyers to post at the library directing students to mental health care resources.
And on Mondays and Tuesdays, a number of students take an hour out of their schedule to join Benjamin Day and his counseling center staff in a number of stress-relieving exercises.
Once a month, Pamela Lehmberg leaves the Health Center and walks “Snowy,” a fluffy white therapy dog, over to a residence hall where students will pet and cuddle him.
Burt, Day, and Lehmberg are among the forces driving self-care resources and promoting positive mental health for Framingham State students.
At the Henry Whittemore Library, Burt, administrative manager, took a leading role with Millie Gonzàlez, dean of the library, to establish the Rams Renew Space, which opened in the Fall 2021 semester.
Burt said the purpose of the space is to provide everyone with a place to destress on campus, no matter how they define relaxation.
The space, located on the second floor of the library, is a repurposed, carpeted, empty room, now with a massage chair, foot ottomans, puzzles, empty journals, therapy lamps, and other items to calm and soothe one’s stress.
It is open for students, faculty, and staff to schedule on LibCal for 30-minute increments.
Burt said having spaces dedicated to self-care such as the Rams Renew space is important “because a lot of young people come here, many for the first time out on their own. They have all these responsibilities. And it probably gets a little overwhelming, especially at certain times like exam time.”
She said the library is always open to improving the space, adding that recently she ordered a buddha board, which is an inexpensive tablet made of water where the messages and drawings created on the board slowly evaporate.
Burt added another recent addition to the room was an animatronic puppy. “It purrs and it’s adorable.”
She said one student called looking for a private space to pray, and she was happy she was able to offer the Rams Renew Space as there is also a prayer rug in the room.
“The pandemic - it’s affected us all in different ways. I want students to know that we're here for them,” she said.
González said creating the space was an idea which was “bubbling” in her mind for a while, and she was waiting for a space to open up in the library to truly bring it to life.
She added the library is working on a number of other projects to focus on mental health and mindfulness. For example, on the bottom floor, there is an exercise bike with a desktop which students can use either to “zone out” and take a break, or stay active while working on schoolwork.
She said the library also hosts a weekly meditation session led by Meghan Maxfield, administrative assistant for the Mathematics Department.
González added, “There are so many things that are going on in the world that are seeking your attention. It's really easy to get overwhelmed, especially with students working and trying to balance friends and family and schoolwork and work. It can be demanding.”
On the other side of State Street, Benjamin Day, director of the counseling center, and his colleagues began an eight-week program this semester called stress reduction and relaxation training.
The weekly training is an hour-long session and it teaches students different methods to manage their stress, Day said. Upon completing the program, students receive a certificate showing they have successfully learned to manage their stress.
This training is now being offered in addition to the counseling center’s general resources - counseling, crisis counseling, same-day consultations, and online mental health screenings.
He said the stress-reduction and relaxation training was developed from the Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) at the Benson-Henry Institute at Mass General Hospital which all staff members at the counseling center were certified in last fall.
Day added the purpose of the training is to help students learn to navigate the “natural stresses” of attending college in a way that does not increase other people’s stress.
He said sometimes stress can become so overwhelming that one becomes incapable of attending class, interacting with their peers, or eating.
“A lot of the physical issues that people have can be traced to the fact that they don’t know how to relax,” he said. “So the goal is to get people to understand that connection between mind and body to be able to enter into a place where studying is easier because they’re not as tense.”
The vision for the program is to eventually bring it outside of the counseling center to locations where students gather such as a residence hall or the athletic center, Day said.
He encouraged students who are struggling to find the time for self-care to “just breathe.” Day said college is not only for education, but it is also supposed to be fun. He thinks students often can get caught up in worrying about passing tests and completing assignments that they forget this.
Day said the best way to fit self-care into a busy schedule is by making it a priority, adding if a student is capable of staying awake until 3 a.m. to work on assignments, they must also be capable of fitting in “just one hour” to do something that benefits their well-being.
Downstairs from the counseling center, Lehmberg, wellness education coordinator, mentors a group of students known as the S.E.A.L.S. Peer Health Educators.
The acronym S.E.A.L.S. stands for Support. Education. Action. Leadership. Strength. Lehmberg said their goal is to provide resources for health and wellness in an “inclusive and non judgmental manner,” on topics such as stress, sleep, sexual health, alcohol and cannabis, and mental health promotion.
The S.E.A.L.S. hold interactive tables every other week promoting these resources and handing out useful items for students to take home with them.
For example, for Valentine’s Day, they hosted a table in the McCarthy Center Lobby with a board which said “Be your own Valentine,” promoting self appreciation. Students were encouraged by the S.E.A.L.S. to write something they love about themselves and stick it on the board. Then, they were given an origami heart.
“There's actually research that shows that a pleasant, positive interaction, even with an acquaintance or someone you don't know can help boost your sense of well-being,” she said.
Lehmberg said levels of loneliness and stress were emphasized during the pandemic. Citing the American College Health Association, National College Health Assessment, she said 53% of college students self-identified as lonely.
She said the idea that individuals are alone in trying to improve their well-being is wrong. “I think so much of improving our well-being is connecting with others and using our resources.”
Lehmberg said she discusses self-care with the S.E.A.L.S. through a six dimensional wheel which takes into consideration all aspects of health - emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational, and social.
She said the Self-Care vending machine in the McCarthy Center, which is stocked with items such as condoms, ibuprofen, and COVID-19 tests, is designed to fulfill the idea of a fluctuating wellness wheel, especially when the Health Center is closed.
Along with their bi-weekly tables, the S.E.A.L.S. also host Pause 4 Paws, an event held near finals week for students to interact with therapy dogs. Recently, Lehmberg and the S.E.A.L.S. have been taking the therapy dog, “Snowy,” to residence halls monthly.
Maeve Walsh is a senior and a S.E.A.L.S. Peer Health Educator. She said her favorite part about the S.E.A.L.S. program is that it helps students be able to talk to each other about important topics that otherwise can feel uncomfortable.
She said as a Peer Health Educator, she wanted students to know that it is OK if self-care and self love doesn’t always come “naturally” to them.
“Everybody has different needs,” Walsh said. “Focus on yourself and what feels right for you.”