How to Be a Wellness Warrior

At Union College, a wellness program is changing students, faculty, and staff.

Ryan Teller, Mid-America Union Outlook
How to Be a Wellness Warrior

When Stacy Stocks arrived at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States, in 2018 to take over as dean of students, she knew that years of stress and overwork at her previous job had taken a toll on her body — and she had seen the results in weight gain and other nagging health problems.

Early in the school year, she noticed advertisements for Union’s new Warrior Wellness program, challenging students and employees to focus on improving their physical and mental health.

“I didn’t participate because I didn’t know how,” Stocks recalled. “I had transitioned from a job that was all consuming and didn’t allow for good self-care. I didn’t think I had the time.”

But the challenges — drinking enough water, getting adequate rest, and even understanding how to manage stress — made Stocks realize her new employer and fellow employees did care about her physical wellbeing and that it was acceptable to take time to be healthy.

While Stocks didn’t immediately begin participating in the wellness program, the ideas from the campus-wide communication encouraged her to make a change. On New Year’s Day, she embarked on a journey to lose 40 pounds by the time she turned 40, at the end of July. She embraced the principles promoted by Warrior Wellness, and with the support of WeightWatchers, began eating in moderation. She started a regular exercise program, walking on Union’s arboretum campus.

To keep up her motivation and accountability, Stocks joined the Wellness Walking class for employees. “Next, the wellness program challenged us to get more sleep,” she said. “Schedules and responsibilities make that difficult, but for the first time in more than two decades, I focused on getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night.”

Stocks was not the only employee to stay involved in the Warrior Wellness challenges. And that didn’t go unnoticed by students like Joslyn Lewis.

“I was motivated seeing which staff and faculty members were getting involved,” she said of the wellness challenges. “It was something for us to do together as a campus.”

A senior education major from California, Lewis took the Healthy Eating and Fitness class last school year because she needed more health credits. She saw the wellness challenges as a way to bring structure to the new practices she learned in class.

Even though Lewis didn’t earn a top prize in the water challenge, she began focusing on consistently drinking a healthy amount each day. “I discovered that herbal tea counts too!” she chuckled, switching to a British accent. “So I got different tea flavors, and now I’m one of those tea people.”

As she battled with the stress of school, the stress challenge helped Lewis understand the importance of regular relaxation. “I’ve really been intentional about taking time to rest,” she said. “It’s not necessarily sleeping, but taking time to paint or draw or other breaks from my usual schedule.”

She immediately discovered the difference when she took time off from studying to create art or read. “It definitely changed my energy level,” Lewis explained. “My interactions with people seem to be better when I’m taking those moments to relax.”

Setting Goals and Gaining Rewards

For Larinda Fandrich, director of Warrior Wellness, that’s what the program is all about. “We want to impact our students and faculty and help them learn how to incorporate positive health choices into their daily lives,” she said.

Fandrich, an assistant professor of nursing at Union, who is currently working on a doctor of nursing practice degree in lifestyle medicine, was tasked with leading the program because of her passion for helping people live healthy lives.

She formed a committee and partnered with Tammy Adams, the campus nurse, to develop a two-year rotation of six-week challenges. Their goal is to help students and employees better understand how the eight principles of wellness outlined by AdventHealth’s CREATION Life impact their lives. For the 2018-19 academic year, the campus embraced challenges focused on physical activity, rest, water, and stress, while in 2019-20 the focus is on nutrition, trust, relationships, and outlook.

Each challenge sets specific goals and awards prizes for consistent participation. Warrior Wellness also has planned events throughout the school year to bring more attention to healthy life choices.

And while Unionites like Stocks and Lewis may not participate in every challenge, the cumulative effect has led to healthier living.

“I’m not a scheduler,” Lewis said. “But now I think about taking the time to drink water or take a break from studying. I put more time into taking care of myself.”

Stocks did lose 40 pounds by her birthday in July and set a goal to lose another 35 by the end of the year. Her husband joined her on the journey and has lost nearly 50 pounds. She credits the school’s program for their success. “Becoming an employee at Union College allowed me to care for my health in a way I didn’t have the time, strength, or encouragement to do before.”

The original version of this story was posted by Mid-America Union Outlook magazine.

Ryan Teller, Mid-America Union Outlook