As a latinx woman with the pronouns of she/her and a first generation college student my definition of wellness has shifted from time to time. My identity influenced my definition of wellness that I didn’t quite know what wellness was until it was introduced to me in college. The word wellness wasn’t used very often to describe my well being and instead words like are you feeling good or are you stressed was a way to check in on how I was doing but I didn’t associate it with wellness. My cultural upbringing didn’t focus on wellness. No one taught me that you have to look after yourself and that these emotions you are feeling of fatigue and stress can be affecting your wellness. Being a first generation student also left me to figure everything out on my own when I got to college. My parents are immigrants of Mexico with only a high school education so they couldn’t help me on this journey of college since they had never experienced it. They didn’t understand that college will affect your wellness. College comes with lots of stress, unknown challenges and much more and sometimes people don’t understand that.
I define wellness now as taking care of your body, physically and mentally so you don’t burnout. This could look like doing things you like in order to alleviate any stress that you may have. I have learned to recognize when I have lots of stress, that I get headaches or I feel super tired. When I recognize this I know my body and mind are feeling too overwhelmed and I need to exercise or I need to take a break from whatever it is that I am doing and focus on something else. Exercising has always been my safe place where I don’t think about anything else besides what I am doing. It may not be for everyone but it really helps clear the mind and alleviate some stress through sweat. My body and mind feel so much better after. It doesn’t have to be rigorous exercise either. It could be as simple as walking my dogs or just going outside.
One thing I started doing more is hiking. Due to Covid-19 I had to find ways to keep my wellness good and I found nature to be very helpful. I was in nature more than I have ever been in my whole life. The reason behind not being in nature so often, is as a person of color, I sometimes feel inadequate or not welcomed to be in nature due to the fact that it is predominantly a white space. This means that you will usually see white folks out in nature which can discourage people of color to not do outdoor activities due to not feeling welcomed. I know this because I participated in a trip that was for people of color. It was called the Second Year Experience and they partnered up with the University of Utah Outdoor Adventure office to make an outdoors trip to Moab. They also did a focus group on us to see what barriers we’ve experienced when trying to access the outdoors. Utah is home to five beautiful national parks and the majority of us had not experienced them, myself included. Some barriers that were mentioned were the stereotypes that came with being outdoors like it seems the outdoors is only for white folks to experience, not having experiences or exposure to the outdoors due to our background, transportation, etc. All things that make a gap between the outdoors and people of color. They also asked if we would’ve still gone on the trip if this was announced like on flier and most of us said no. The reason most of us were going was to alleviate stress from school so to improve our wellness, and to get closer to the cohort. If this was a random activity that the outdoor adventure had planned most of us would not have gone. We would not feel comfortable, again, in a space that the majority is white.
In order to close that gap people need to be educated on gender, race, ethnicity, etc. so, it can feel like a safe space for all students. This can help alleviate any barriers a person of color can have when wanting to access any wellness resource. That the person knows that they can access these resources without feeling not welcomed or that they feel they have to change who they are. Personally, it is hard to share my own experiences, as a person of color, to someone who is white because they don’t understand the struggle. Though in wellness it affects every human being so there shouldn’t be a gap but there is one due to different identities and backgrounds. It is something that will always be a work in progress in order to close that gap between wellness and people of color.