Wellness Wednesday kicks off new health initiatives at campus

Penn State Hazleton has launched a series of wellness initiatives beginning with Wellness Wednesday lectures focusing on a variety of health topics.

On Sept. 23, the campus hosted Michele Kowalski-McGraw, MD, MPH, who works in Occupational Health Services at Lehigh Valley Health Network's Health & Wellness Center in Hazleton. She spoke to an audience of students, faculty members and staff about stress management and health strategies.   

"The way we react to illness and stress makes such a difference," she said. To start, she had the group complete a "perceived stress scale" so each individual was aware of his or her personal stress level. The scale asked about feelings and thoughts during the last month, with higher scores indicative of chronic stress.

To help manage stress, Kowalski-McGraw discussed a variety of topics and exercises.

She introduced the concept of reaction versus response, encouraging them to choose to respond rather than react. "Stop, breathe and be. Keep from automatically reacting to what's occurring," she said.

Kowalski-McGraw asked the group what causes them stress, and listed the 10 most stressful events in a college student's life.

"It's important to recognize these stressful events, since the only thing you can choose is the way you respond. If you don't have an outlet for your stress, it can have negative effects on your mind and performance," she said.  

Kowalski-McGraw discussed the physical and mental signs of long-term stress, longer-term stress and perceived longer-term stress.

"Know how to select and utilize appropriate strategies for managing stress," she said, leading the group through mindfulness and deep breathing meditation exercises. "An area of our brain actually changes when we go through mindfulness."

First-year student Casey Ray said she felt stress management was a great topic for the beginning of the semester. "It was really helpful since I've been feeling bogged down. I learned there's always something you can do to help manage stress," she said.

Tara Trout, PA-C, advanced care practitioner at Penn State Hazleton, said, "Dr. Kowalski-McGraw's  exercises helped put everyone's perceived level of stress into perspective and showed how stress impacts your life. The tips she shared, especially using mindfulness, are potent strategies in managing that stress."

Trout chairs the Wellness Committee at Penn State Hazleton, which was established earlier this year to promote both physical and mental wellness.

"The committee chose topics based on the needs of our students. We felt it was important to put stress management at the beginning of the semester, a critical time when students are seeking ways to manage their stress and anxiety," she said.

The lectures will be held monthly. The next Wellness Wednesday lecture, set for Oct. 28, will focus on nutrition and healthy eating. Other topics will include nutrition and proper eating habits, depression, domestic abuse, eating disorders and women's health.

Wellness Wednesday complements other wellness initiatives such as a health fair and movies with a wellness theme that will be shown while healthy snacks are served, in collaboration with Housing and Food Services.

For more information on Penn State Hazleton's health initiatives, contact Tara Trout at 570-450-3045.