Relaxing music played through a small speaker as the smell of hot apple cider wafted through the air. Students clumped around tables in the library, hovering over the plastic tablecloths and drawing onto paper with markers, paintbrushes and oil pastels. Every few minutes, a small alarm would go off in the distance, signaling that the professional masseuse finished with one student and ready to move on to the next.
Students at MidAmerica have mere days left until the end of the semester. Many feel as if they are already at their wit’s end, drowning in a sea of end-of-semester-projects. However, a relaxation-oriented annual partnering of MidAmerica’s Associated Student Government (ASG) and the Student Counseling and Wellness Center is doing its best to lighten the load.
Put on for the first time in 2015 by the Wellness Center, Creative Spaces was an event put on inside what is now known as the Mabee Learning Commons. The event was created with hopes of lowering the overwhelming stress students sometimes experienced. It featured creativity-based activities such as coloring and painting and welcomed students into a less demanding atmosphere.
Elizabeth Diddle, MNU’s director of student counseling, took time during the event to explain how working creatively can help to combat pre-finals week stress.
“Creative Spaces is based on research that says you are replenished when you do creative things,” said Diddle. “So, any time you are focused on something creative, it helps your mind to come into that moment, and it’s not wandering and fretting about nervous things, and instead it helps you to replenish.”
The first year, the event was put on entirely by the Wellness Center. The next year, ASG got involved. Director of social life Andrew Cornelius believes the purpose of ASG is to make students aware of on-campus programs and that Creative Spaces is an example of that.
“One of the cool things about ASG is that it’s a connecting point for a lot of students on campus. We work with the Diversity Council and we work with the Student Wellness Center,” Cornelius said. “By bringing [students] to Creative Spaces, we let them experience kind of what the Wellness Center does.”
As students continued to work on their art projects during the event, Diddle further explained the concept of healing creatively.
“I don’t have a journal article that says, ‘if you do water coloring then you’re going to be better,’” said Diddle. “But there is lots research out there that talks about being creative and how that is helpful for you as a person.”
Lisa Downs, director of student life and recruitment events, attended Creative Spaces as well and chimed in about how she enjoyed the activities available.
“I’m sitting here coloring and going, ‘Oh wow! I’m not really having to think about anything that’s happening outside, or school, or work or anything. I can relax,’” said Downs.
Renee Howland, an MNU student that attended the event, expressed a similar attitude.
“I really enjoyed Creative Spaces this year. I had my biggest paper of the semester due soon after, so it was a great excuse to take a break from it. I didn’t do any painting like I did last year, but I really enjoyed the coloring sheets,” said Howland.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be, you know, painting or watercolors, or coloring, but just something to create habit where they do feel like they’re taking care of themselves and are feeling refreshed,” said Cornelius.
The Wellness Center also emphasized the importance of creative self-care while in the presence of others, in contrast to relaxation via Netflix binge.
“There’s distraction, and then there’s engagement,” said Diddle. “That’s [Netflix binging] distraction. And I don’t have a problem with that at times as long as it’s within good boundaries. But this [Creative Spaces] is engagement. And so there’s another reward to sitting at a table with other people and talking. So that’s in isolation and this is in connection. And that would be the difference.”
The two groups that organized the event both plan to continue the partnership into the future because of the enormous benefit to the students, agreeing that it showed participants how to take care of themselves on a daily basis.
“I do think it’s about self-care,” said Diddle. “[Students] are learning here, ‘You know, when I left here, I felt refreshed. So maybe I could do this in my everyday life.’”
Dana Palmer- More by this author
Dana Palmer is a student at MidAmerica Nazarene University and a reporter for The Trailblazer.