Students choose succulent plants

Hopkins grad students learn how to stay ahead of stress

The Stay Ahead of the Stress Fest in East Baltimore has grown to include university and student groups, service animals, and free succulent plants

Sherry Chen doesn't like to leave her dog Sherlock Holmes home alone for too long. The miniature Australian Shepherd has anxiety, and Chen has found that his companionship eases her own feelings of stress.

So when the School of Nursing Mental Health Grad Network, the wellness group Chen cofounded and helps run, was approached about participating in the annual Stay Ahead of the Stress Fest at Johns Hopkins, she and her cofounders decided to bring their pets along.

"Our dogs are a big part of what helps us to de-stress, and we were hoping to share that with others," says Chen, who is training Sherlock to be a certified emotional support animal. "They are all unofficial Mental Health Grad Network mascots."

Composite image of students with dogs

Image caption: Sherry Chen (left) offers a treat to her dog, Sherlock Holmes, while Lisa Tran's dog, Happy (right) gets a pat on the head from a student.

Lisa Tran, one of the group's cofounders, says her 6-year-old mixed breed dog Happy has helped ease the depression that set in as she began her doctoral program.

"The Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Hopkins was a big adjustment for me," Tran says. "The program was mostly online, and I didn't have a chance to form the same community of peers that I did during my master's program. That isolation was a big factor in the onset of my depression. However, I noticed that whenever I saw and hugged dogs, that dark cloud lifted. I wanted to bring Happy to the Stay Ahead of the Stress Fest because I love seeing people's faces light up whenever he does silly dog things."

Group photo

Image caption: The School of Nursing Mental Health Grad Network is run by (from left) Kelsey Pearson, Lisa Tran, Anne Batchelder, Sherry Chen, and Lyndsay DeGroot (not pictured).

Image credit: Courtesy of Lisa Tran

The dogs brought in by the Mental Health Grad Network were just one of many stress-busting attractions at Wednesday's Stay Ahead of the Stress Fest, held on the plaza of the Ross Research Building on the university's East Baltimore campus. Previously held in the courtyard of the School of Nursing, the event has grown over the past seven years and this year attracted an estimated 750 graduate students.

"Our graduate students are dispersed across Baltimore and D.C.," says Hannah Fegley, a manager and clinician at the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program, which sponsored the event along with University Health Services. "The festival is a way for students to come together and learn about the resources available to them and for the university to promote the idea of wellness and self-care while students are still orienting themselves in their programs and classes."

During the event, students were treated to free 10-minute massages, as well as fitness tips from Cooley Center trainers, who had also set up a badminton net for students to play on the lawn. Chung Jung Mun, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine who focuses on sleep research, consulted with students about healthy sleep habits. Devices to promote better sleep, such as a portable sound spa and sleep mask, were raffled off to students, as was a selection of fresh vegetables from a local farm.

Kevin Shollenberger pets a dog

Image caption: Kevin Shollenberger, the inaugural vice provost for student health and well-being, attends the Stay Ahead of the Stress Fest in East Baltimore.

Perhaps the most popular attraction—apart from the free catered barbecue and refreshments—was the succulent station. Students decorated little clay pots and were given succulent plants to serve as a physical reminder of the importance of incorporating self-care and wellness practices into their daily routines.

"I like to garden—I'm a big gardener, so this will be added to my collection," says Vickie Trinh, a first-year student in the School of Medicine's Human Genetics program.

Adds Trinh's classmate Zach Besich: "It'll serve as a good reminder for me to manage my stress—if my cat doesn't eat it first."