This fall, every incoming first-year student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the public honors college, was given something unique – a full-size coloring book promoting the wellness services offered through the College’s Wellness Center.
“The Wellness Center strives to provide progressive and holistic treatment tools for students that address the whole person, including mind, body, and mood,” said Kyle Bishop, executive director of the Wellness Center and director of counseling and psychological services at St. Mary’s College. Bishop, who wrote the copy for the book added, “We are excited to be able to offer our students this fun and beneficial tool and hope it can be a model for other schools looking to support students in new and innovative ways.”
Top priorities at St. Mary’s College are making sure students are aware of the many programs and services offered through the center and that students are proactively taking steps to reduce stressful and anxious feelings. While a coloring book may not be the first thing to come to mind to accomplish this goal, taking a break from stressful thoughts is an important part of managing the physical symptoms anxiety can create. A recent study also found that coloring can reduce heart rate, which is a key factor in relaxation. As the introduction to the book explains, “The act of coloring combines the concentration and coordination needed to fill in spaces and patterns with the creativity of choosing or blending colors – without the pressure of trying to draw something new. This process lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotions that is adversely affected by stress.”
According to a study by the National College Health Assessment, which examined data from 125,000 students from more than 150 colleges and universities, about one-third of U.S. college students have difficulty functioning from depression, and almost half report feeling overwhelming anxiety.
While many college campuses have adopted coloring events and other coloring therapy programs, St. Mary’s College’s wellness coloring book takes the idea a step further. Each of the 16 illustrations (which depict places and activities around the St. Mary’s College campus) is tied to a stress-reducing concept that can provide additional therapeutic benefits for students. For example, a drawing of the campus community farm is featured under the title “Healthy Eating,” and a paragraph below the drawing discusses the important role proper nutrition can play in regulating mood. Some of the other topics include Mindfulness, The Benefits of Music, Creativity, Time Management and Sleep Hygiene.
In addition to highlighting stress management strategies, the coloring book opens with information about the Wellness Center and closes with a map of the campus and the Blue Light Phones students can use if they feel unsafe or need assistance at any time. Kate L. Harrison, the marketing consultant who illustrated the book based on an idea conceived with Barry Muchnick, assistant professor of environmental studies at St. Mary’s College, explained, “The idea was to create something that was a therapeutic tool, an educational experience, and a promotional piece for the College’s wellness services.”
St. Mary’s College of Maryland, designated the Maryland state honors college in 1992, is ranked one of the best public liberal arts schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Approximately 1,800 students attend the college, nestled on the St. Mary’s River in Southern Maryland.