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Spaces for Holistic Health and Well Being

water feature built into a wall in front of seating arranged in a circle around a small table

Notions of health and wellness have expanded in recent years, taking into consideration how our emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well-being impact our overall health and physical capabilities. As is often the case, colleges are leading the way in creating spaces to optimize their communities’ well-being through more holistic approaches to health.

There are a number of proven strategies that can optimize wellness proactively to keep people from reaching a crisis point.

At the College of the Holy Cross, spiritual retreats are integral to their mission as a Jesuit college. In designing their contemplative center, attention was paid to how the space could support their community’s well-being holistically, including the food served in the cafeteria, spaces for yoga classes, places to gather for social support, countless spots for quiet reflection and meditation and connections with nature. The objective was to create an overall environment of calm, free from stress and obligations.

“We have this program we do for first year students: they are new at Holy Cross, they are busy, trying to figure out life and academics and social things, said Holy Cross Retreats Director, Megan Fox-Kelly. “We do this check in with them at the beginning: how are you feeling right now, the common thread is, ‘stressed, overwhelmed, I have so much to do and feel like I can’t do it.’ They are led through an afternoon of contemplation and reflection, we feed them really well, and then we do that same check in when they leave, ‘I feel like I can breathe, I feel more energized.’ Even just a short period of time here – it doesn’t have to be five days, it can be an hour, it can be three hours. When you leave here, you feel different.”

Worcester Polytechnic Institute, similarly, saw a need for an expanded approach to health that made mental and emotional well-being a higher priority. The school desired a hub for holistic health services in a well-travelled, accessible location. They seized an opportunity to undertake a major renovation to the first floor of their Daniels Residence Hall in a central campus location next to their dining hall and accessed from the main quad. This also allowed WPI to co-locate their student health and representative counseling services with the new set of programs and support offered through their Center for Well Being.

Among the features of the center are a large and open space where students can meet and gather or sit quietly to read, study, or meditate. Small offices are available for peer counseling, therapies, and a room for yoga and other wellness programs is another important element.

rendering of a guidance suite with tables and chairs between several office doors

Rendering of the guidance suite at Doherty Memorial High School

Paula Fitzpatrick, Director of the Center for Well Being said, “I can hardly believe the transformation. When we sat here having conversations about what we hoped for this space, we envisioned a space that you would walk into and feel like you were having a hug. Every time I walk into the Center for Well Being I feel a sense of release.”

Similarly, at the high school level, districts are looking to create spaces that expand physical education offerings to include yoga, dance and other alternatives to traditional sports activities. The new Doherty Memorial High School opening this fall includes not only a large gymnasium, but an adjacent wellness suite.

Additionally, the district wanted their guidance counseling offices to be part of a suite where students could access resources for mental health. The guidance suite at Doherty has a large central space between the guidance offices with seating and tables for waiting, meeting, or alternative dining, and will support students’ mental health discreetly and without stigma.

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