It’s a common refrain these days: 2020 has been a year. A tense election, racial injustices, and the stresses of the pandemic have made this a challenging time to maintain a sense of well-being.
But the Penn community has access to resources to maintain and enhance wellness. Some are long-standing programs, such as counseling available to students through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and to faculty and staff through Penn’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Other healing outlets are regular meditation and mindfulness sessions through the Division of Human Resources (HR) and Student Health Service, challenges and workshops for staff and faculty through the Be in the Know Program, and an assortment of opportunities for spiritual practice, supported by the Office of the Chaplain. And this week, the student coalition Penn Wellness is presenting Wellness Week Fall 2020, an array of online events emphasizing self-care in a variety of forms.
To help navigate some of these resources, Penn Today spoke with Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé; Jennifer Richards, senior and chair of the Penn Wellness board; and HR’s Jack Heuer and Karen Kille. Here are five of the many tools they underscore as particularly useful that people at Penn can draw upon this week and in the weeks to come to tend to different facets of their well-being.
Penn Wellness formed in 2015 to bring together various student groups devoted to aspects of wellness under one umbrella. Endowed by a gift from the Class of 1978, the organization hosts two Wellness Week events each year. The spring event moved online in short order, but for the fall event, happening now through Nov. 14, they had more time to develop a robust slate of virtual offerings.
“We have events that run the gamut,” says Richards, a senior from San Diego who is chair of the Penn Wellness board. “We know tensions have been running high, so we hope this will be a way for people to destress and for people to come meet each other.”
Events for the week include a “Stretch and Stillness” session hosted by the Greenfield Intercultural Center, a workshop on mindfulness co-organized by the Penn Band and CAPS, a chess tournament from the Penn Chess Club, a viewing of the Disney-Pixar film “Coco” from the Latin American Graduate and Professional Assembly, and many more.
“We hope people will take a moment and all think about their self-care and their wellness a little more this week,” says Richards.
MindWell at Penn
Faculty and staff have a tremendous slate of wellness resources—such a range that some may find it hard to know where to get started.
“We take a comprehensive approach to staff and faculty wellness,” says Jack Heuer, vice president for human resources. “Supporting emotional wellness is as vital to health as encouraging physical wellness for individuals and their families.”
To help the University’s employees identify the best options for emotional wellness and behavioral health care, HR created the MindWell page, “part of a broader communication and programming initiative to connect faculty and staff and their families to emotional wellbeing resources,” says Karen Kille, senior work-life consultant in HR.
The easy-to-navigate site offers a clear map for people in need of behavioral health services and also rounds up other wellness resources from the Be in the Know wellness campaign to help finding child care providers. And HR is continuing to add more offerings.
Another platform to facilitate mental and emotional health support is Penn COBALT, which launched this spring and was created by a team at Penn Medicine in collaboration with UnitedHealth Group.
“Colleagues at the health system fast-tracked this project to create a repository of mental health resources that help connect each person to the right resource,” says Dubé.
Penn employees can enter the site anonymously or using their Penn Key login, complete an evaluation, and receive tailored recommendations for support, from curated health and wellness content to recommendations for individualized therapy or peer support. Users can also make an appointment with the EAP directly through Penn COBALT. “It highlights the spectrum of resources available to employees, and allows them to complete activities on their time and within their schedule,” Dubé says.
Currently available to Penn employees, plans are in place to expand Penn COBALT to encompass more of the University community.
Stemming from Wellness’s 2019 Your Big Idea challenge,an initiative of Dubé and the Center for Public Health Initiative’s Jennifer Pinto-Martin and supported by Provost Wendell Pritchett, the NatureRx at Penn program has blossomed this year. The initiative, put forward by Chloe Cerwinka, landscape planner in the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services, entails giving out “prescriptions” for time in nature. Anyone at Penn can be on the giving or receiving end of these NatureRx recommendations.
“This resource is really well-suited to our current times, where we are all glued to these little square boxes on our laptops,” Dubé says. “Taking time to disconnect and then reconnect with nature is a good antidote for the multiple sources of worry and anxiety in our world right now.”
The NatureRx webpage not only provides a downloadable “prescription pad” but also makes recommendations for outdoor spots on campus to soak up a dose of nature.
Seek connection; control what you can
While formal programs such as those listed above are invaluable, Dubé notes there are many unstructured opportunities for individuals to proactively address feelings of stress and worry.
“Leaning on each other is the first line of defense,” he says. “Masking is good for COVID but bad for feelings. We should not mask our feelings; we should share them.”
For people less inclined to reach out, Dubé encourages the act of simply writing down one’s feelings. “If you commit them to paper, that’s a way to loosen the grip that our feelings have on us and ultimately take proactive action so we don’t become paralyzed by them.”
Parting words of wisdom from the chief wellness officer: “Focus on things over which you have control,” Dubé says, and, “Moderation is key when it comes to social media.”
Benoit Dubé is chief wellness officer and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jack Heuer is vice president of the Division of Human Resources at Penn.
Karen Kille is senior work-life consultant in the Division of Human Resources at Penn.
Jennifer Richards is chair of the Penn Wellness board and a senior at Penn double majoring in psychology and criminology and submatriculated into the master of science in criminology program.