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Well-being Workshops for students

The purpose

On invitations from different program directors to address students at semester start, Pernille Steen Pedersen has developed and tested a format for well-being workshops. It is targeted both new and experienced students. Pedersen's aim with the workshop is to shed focus on stress prevention and well-being among students at CBS and to work with compassion as a skill that can be trained for the purpose of reducing stress and increasing well-being. She will do so through the following points:
  • Use the research to address the issues that can influence the sense of well-being among students and break myths about the ideal CBS student in order to help students build a shared experience and community around feelings, that they otherwise might believe they are alone in dealing with.  
  • Provide a nuanced perspective on one's own reactions and that of others in order to better recognize and embrace other's feelings and reactions.  
  • Give students knowledge about shame and the difference between stress and being busy to help them to notice if potential signs of stress arise in them
  • Inspire students to reach out for help and also to reach out to support others when needed

The format

One week before the workshop, students receive an introduction letter that explains the purpose and format of the upcoming workshop. The letter includes three reflection questions and a link to a podcast to listen to at home in which three students talk with Pedersen about some of the main themes that will be addressed in the workshop. This is to accentuate the importance of the topic and to allow students to prepare and reflect a bit in advance. Pedersen's presentation at the workshop is drawing on the knowledge deriving from the research project. She presents her view on the relation between stress and shame, and how this perspective gives new ways to understand and address stress-related issues with strong emphasis on strengthening relations. Pedersen explains the tendencies she sees from interviews and surveys with many different students, but also includes concrete examples from students' everyday experiences and insightful citations from the interviews with students who participate in the project. By using live-pools via Instagram Pedersen invites the participants during the workshop to relate to some statements on the spot, to see in the group to which extent they recognize some feelings or experiences other students have had. For example, students are asked to answer yes or no to the statement: "During my studies, I have experienced feeling inadequate (utilstrækkelig)." This serves to highlight some of the main issues, but also normalizing it, when students can see that they are not alone in these experiences. Below you can see the results from polls done with a large group of Cand.soc students. Some students afterwards said that seeing these polls was ”very illuminating” and ”it made me realize that I am not alone in that situation.”  
Results from Intagram-polls with Cand.soc students 1. During my studies, I have experienced feeling inadequate (utilstrækkelig). Yes: 175 (86%) No: 28 (14%) 2. In my study programme, I have experienced having a bad conscience (dårlig samvittighed) about my efforts. Yes: 169 (86%) No: 28 (14%) 3. Of course, one is afraid of what others think. Yes: 161 (82%) No: 35 (18%) 4. People are good at talking about all sorts of other emotions, but as soon as it concerns something study related, there’s an idea that you should be in control of it all. Yes: 92 (47%) No: 104 (53%) 5. It is a relief when others say that they also have a hard time. Yes: 185 (94%) No: 12 (6%)

At the end of the workshop, students are invited to give feedback per mail for example to the following questions: What did you find most interesting in this workshop? What can you do to support the well-being as a student at CBS? What do you think CBS could do to support the well-being of their students? Pedersen uses the replies to evaluate the workshop, to develop it further, but also to keep receiving information from students about the topics that are important to their experiences of study life.

Test and feedback from students

At the semester start in fall 2021 the workshop was tested at a large group of Cand.soc. students and a small group of HA(jur.) students, beginning their 3. semester. Trine Bille, who is Program Director of Cand.soc., introduced the workshop by saying: "It is about the fact that we from the Study Board want to put focus on well-being, and we find that Pernille's research has an interesting and different approach to the topic, which focuses on relations and not merely individual solutions."
"Talk more about it. Normalize stress. This was the first time I heard this openly being talked about, and not just "hey, we have a student guidance person who you can call if you feel anything", of course that’s necessary but I loved hearing about all these experiences already in the intro. I was surprised by how much I could recognize these feelings."
These are the words of a student, who participated in the well-being workshop. Pedersen's goal is to normalize difficult feelings, like insecurity, inadequacy, and doubt in the study life. She uses the research to show students how common these experiences are and to begin a shift in the culture about how one thinks and talks about it. Breaking myths and taboos. The feedback she receives most often is that students recognize the feelings that she address and how surprised, but also relieved, they are to hear that so many others are in the same boat. The Instagram polls Pedersen uses during the workshop, provides some great "aha-moments" for many participants. Again, because they can witness - live on the spot - how others next to them are thinking and feeling too. 94% of 197 Cand.soc. students said they felt relieved knowing that others also have a hard time. One participant wrote in the feedback that it was nice to see "that so many students feel the same way. The fact that most people have a facade of being this great student, but feel as insecure on the inside, was particularly comforting." Similarly, another stated that "I like the quotes, because it made me realize that I am not alone in that situation", while a third wrote that it made an impact on her to see "the amount of people feeling inadequate. This insight will make me more aware or alert about how my co-students feel." These kind of statements underline an important take-away from the workshops. It stresses that sharing and disseminating research on stress and well-being can serve a really important purpose: instead of some students might go around thinking to themselves that they are wrong or not good enough, suddenly they can see for themselves that this is not the case - that what they are experiencing is normal and by seeing it and sharing it with others it can reduce the pressure. The workshop also focuses on stress prevention, and is in itself a part of such effort. To Pedersen, the test and feedback of the workshop format has demonstrated that there is a great need among students to have more knowledge on both stress and prevention - upfront, before someone might experience more severe forms of stress. Some participants wrote: "We found it interesting and encouraging to deal with the prevention of stress instead of after it has occurred."That CBS and different programs work proactively with stress prevention and well-being, was also a welcomed need among students, who were glad to see this focus. One student shared that the best of the workshop was "knowing that CBS care about our well-being and try to change things", and another said "it is the first time I’ve felt that an "adult" or teacher has actually cared to understand where students were coming from. That’s so nice to finally hear." Workshops as a part of stress preventative efforts Pedersen ended the workshop with an interview citation from Sarah, one of the students participating in the student research panel of the project, which goes:
"It also requires that CBS create an environment where it is safe to talk about these things. It should be normalized. Break this taboo, be more compassionate and be more sensitive. Because sensitivity is not a weakness, it is a strength."
Many students gave the feedback that they had appreciated the workshop and they see it as a good initiative to begin this change in culture. For example some students wrote: "Learn from this workshop, listen to the results, see that the student are feeling stressed and pressured", "Everybody gets stressed, let's normalize the feelings and help each other", and "I think this workshop really helped. I think being open and honest about my feelings, and talking to others about their feelings is the way." With this workshop format on stress prevention and well-being, it is Pedersen aim to help break the taboos and myths, and to give students the experience that sharing openly about their insecurities and stress is safe and the way forward to create a better study environment with less stress and more well-being. Pedersen keeps adding knew research result into the workshop material and incorporates feedback and ideas from students on an on-going basis.

Last updated by: Anne Sofie Fischer 12/10/2021