Melissa L. Johnson, Kristy Spear, and Brittany Hoover, University of Florida
Anyone who has the fortune of working with high-achieving students knows the unique joys of engaging with this eager, exploratory, and experienced (Achterberg, 2005) population. High-achieving students are motivated by more than just academic achievement. They are intellectually capable, accelerated in the pace in which they progress academically, and advanced in terms of coursework and standing as they enter college (Achterberg, 2005). In addition to classroom achievements, they are likely to be engaged in countless extracurricular activities.
These students excel academically, are willing to tackle complex problems, and balance a variety of involvement opportunities simultaneously, but too often this level of involvement comes at a cost. In examining the positive attributes associated with high achievers, it is easy to see how these characteristics, when compounded, have the potential to be detrimental to a student’s wellbeing.
Perfectionism, simultaneity, and multipotentiality (ability to excel in multiple fields) are a few of the characteristics that drive high achievers to a level of busyness that causes them to overlook health and wellbeing. Perfectionism is one of the most common self-reported challenges with high achievers, and research confirms that perfectionism is an issue with these students more so than their peers (Dickinson & Dickinson, 2015). While perfectionism can be tied positively to motivation and drive, in its maladaptive form, perfectionism has been linked with stress, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and chronic pain. For this population, “the end of the semester and its corresponding intensified emphasis on performance might exacerbate perfectionism” (Rice, Leever, Christopher, & Porter, 2006, p. 531). The desire to accomplish compound goals and constantly perform at a high level pushes many high achievers to excel in their academic and extracurricular endeavors, but this yearning can also cause them to sacrifice mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. In the race to perform, these students run the risk of cutting sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and general relaxation.
Through discussion, advisors have the opportunity to empower high-achievers to seek a healthy balance. Taking the time to inquire about recreational activities and scheduled relaxation is one step advisors can take to begin conversations about overscheduling. Another technique for supporting wellness is to encourage reflection and mindfulness. Often, high-achievers are so consumed by their busy schedule and exhausted by their to-do list that they spare no time for creative wandering and reflection. A third approach, which will be discussed in this article, is for advisors to model wellness.
Wellness is multi-faceted, including a focus on physical, emotional, social, vocational, financial, environmental, spiritual, and intellectual states (SAMHSA, 2016). Not only do students need to pay attention to their wellbeing, but advisors do as well. This concern for wellbeing, while particularly salient for high achievers and their advisors due to the challenges previously noted, is certainly not limited to those populations. As Kem, DeBella, and Koenecke (2007) illustrated, advising is stressful, and advisors need to be mindful of staying positive in the moment and accepting that some things are out of their control. For advisors who may spend a significant time in an office behind a desk, taking a moment to get out from behind the desk and head outside can have tremendous benefits on wellbeing.
Attention restoration theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) supports these ideas. In order to feel restored, one must be able to escape to an environment that is altogether interesting, nonthreatening, and compatible with their needs (Kaplan, 1995). Fresh air, sunlight, and the outdoor beauty of nature can trigger the more primal regions of the brain and lead to more creative thoughts (Campbell, 2016). Just a short trip across campus for coffee or a snack can provide an opportunity to take in the sights, clear the mind, and lift the mood. Being outside can lead to a more positive state and can help recover from the mental stress and fatigue that some advisors may face during busy times in the term. Regular physical activity also links to positive mental health, stress relief, and a healthy weight, which helps to boost the impact of the restoring attention throughout the day.
Advisors can further promote wellness by creating unique advising opportunities. McIntyre (2011) provides an excellent example of modeling wellness and promoting student success with high achievers. She posited that there are other opportunities for advising besides within the confines of an office. By inviting her honors students to join her on walks or runs, together they could engage in conversations that could not necessarily be replicated from behind a desk. Those conversations often created an openness, awareness, and intentionality for discussions while exploring campus together.
At the University of Florida, advisors have developed their own wellness advising initiatives for high achieving students. Weekly sessions of yoga and walk-in(g) advising were held during the spring semester. Both opportunities were marketed to students in the University Honors Program as a way to focus on wellbeing while also spending time with one of their advisors. Yoga sessions were facilitated in the evenings by an honors student who had been certified to teach group fitness courses through the campus recreation department. Students could pre-register for the coming week’s class, with participation ranging from two to 20 students and an average of five students. An honors advisor attended the class each week as a student, demonstrating vulnerability, strength, and sometimes literal flexibility alongside the other participants. Inevitably students sought the advisor before and after class with questions ranging from course registration to student involvement.
Walk-in(g) advising used a play on walk-in advising hours to encourage students to drop in and walk laps together with their advisor on campus. Students were told that no technology would be available during the walk to look up answers to questions. As such, walk-in(g) advising was best suited for bigger picture questions and conversations while trying to increase their daily step count. Walk-in(g) advising typically lasted 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the group and how quickly they walked. Weather was not a factor as they utilized the covered walkway around the football stadium, which is open to the public each day. Participation ranged from 2 to 5 students, with an average of 3 plus the advisor. In addition to talking through various scenarios about career goals, campus involvement, and their daily routines, all participants enjoyed comparing the steps they walked on their various personal fitness trackers. The Department of Housing and Residence Education plans to implement a version of walk-in(g) advising with their living learning community residents starting this summer.
These wellness partnerships between honors students and advisors on campus have been beneficial for all parties. High achievers who are prone to overscheduling can take an hour out of their day to focus on themselves—whether through yoga or walking laps at the stadium. Advisors who spend a significant amount of time behind a computer and desk can escape to a more refreshing environment, even if for only an hour, while still managing to help students with their questions and concerns.
Supportive administrators and supervisors who understand the importance of both student and advisor wellness also play a critical role in the implementation of these types of programs, and their endorsement should not be overlooked. For those advisors looking to implement their own wellness programs with students, the authors recommend demonstrating to their supervisors that wellness is an integral component in promoting student success and that the benefits to both student and advisor wellbeing far outweigh the risks of being away from the physical office for a brief amount of time.
Melissa L. Johnson
Associate Director, Honors Program
University of Florida
Advisor, Honors Program
University of Florida
Advisor, Innovation Academy
University of Florida
Achterberg, C. (2005). What is an honors student? Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, 6(1), 75-83.
Campbell, S. (2016). 7 reasons the CEO should get outside to exercise. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/273995
Dickinson, M. J., & Dickinson, D. (2015). Practically perfect in every way; Can reframing perfectionism for high-achieving undergraduates impact academic resilience? Studies in Higher Education, 40(10), 1889-1903.
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182.
Kaplan, R. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Kem, L., DeBella, J., & Koenecke, W. (2007, December). The healthy advisor. Academic Advising Today, 30(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/The-Healthy-Advisor.aspx
McIntyre, C. M. (2011, June). Peripatetic advising: How Socrates, advising, and running shoes influence student success. Academic Advising Today, 34(2). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Peripatetic-Advising-How-Socrates--Advising--and-Running-Shoes-Influence-Student-Success.aspx
Rice, K. G., Leever, B. A., Christopher, J., & Porter, J. D. (2006). Perfectionism, stress, and social (dis)connection: A short-term study of hopelessness, depression, and academic adjustment among honors students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(4), 524-534.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2016). The eight dimensions of wellness. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/wellness-initiative/eight-dimensions-wellness
Cite this article using APA style as: Johnson, M.L., Spear, K., & Hoover, B. (2016, September). High-achieving wellbeing: Partnership opportunities for students and advisors. Academic Advising Today, 39(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]