On the Friday before finals week, Marlaina Widmann ’19 made an instant friend: Chaucer, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who’s a certified therapy dog with The Dog Alliance. Chaucer and two other therapy dogs — along with chair massages, yoga, art activities and healthy snacks — were part of Unwind Before the Grind, an event designed to help students de-stress before finals. It’s coordinated in part by the St. Edward’s Peer Health Educators, who learn about issues like mental health, wellness, and stress management and share that information with their classmates.
“Research has shown that it’s more effective for information about some topics to come from your peers,” says Widmann, who’s serving her second year as a Peer Health Educator.
That’s because college students have all experienced the stresses of college life, like homework, internships, and decisions about the future. Those pressures make it important to learn to manage stress, says Jenna Parro, the group’s advisor. “The Peer Health Educators work on helping students build stress management skills by developing resiliency and grit: the ability to bounce back from tough situations. For example, if a student fails a test, we want him or her to be able to learn from that experience and do better next time, as opposed to just giving up.”
Widmann, a Behavioral Neuroscience major, became a Peer Health Educator because she plans to be a pediatric psychiatrist. Through the program, she’s learned about the concept of holistic wellness — the idea that health isn’t just physical or mental, but is also influenced by social relationships, financial stability, occupational satisfaction, spiritual development, and more. That concept has shaped her search for medical schools, as she hopes to attend one that focuses on holistic wellness.
“When I started out, I just thought I’d be interested in the emotional aspect of wellness,” Widmann says. “But I didn’t realize how much the different aspects of holistic wellness impact one another. They’re all connected, and all are equally important.”