Dr. Gwendolyn Francavillo, fellow Marymount faculty lead nationwide virtual De-Stress Sessions during COVID-19

To assist with mental health and stress management during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marymount University’s Dr. Gwendolyn Francavillo spearheaded an initiative to provide biweekly, nationwide virtual De-Stress Sessions to public health professionals.
These sessions, sponsored by the American Public Health Association (APHA), were held between early May and late July in a virtual format via Zoom, and provided free online meditation, breathing practices and more. They proved to very successful, with participants across the U.S. reporting an improvement in their well-being during these uncertain times.
Dr. Francavillo, a leader in the APHA’s Public Health Education and Health Promotion section, proposed the idea in April, basing it on her own expertise in mental health and stress management teaching and research.
“We were trying to come up with a way to keep APHA members connected and supported through the time of COVID-19, when everyone has been isolated and stressed,” she explained. “Having that connection makes all the difference. It’s a safe space where we see the same people coming back for repeat sessions. It’s really what people need right now.”
During each session, participants were introduced to a stress management and relaxation technique by a facilitator and then had the chance to practice it together. Examples included Gentle Chair Yoga and Guided Imagery, Mindfulness Meditation for Turbulent Times, Deep Breathing, Body Scan, Calming Breath and Stress-Proof Yourself.
While leading the planning, marketing and implementation of the initiative, and teaching the Gentle Chair Yoga and Guided Imagery session herself, Dr. Francavillo also recruited three other Marymount faculty members – Dr. Sara Pappa, Dr. Julia Kish Doto and Dr. Jacqueline Johnson – to teach their own sessions as well. In all, four of the five facilitators of the De-Stress Sessions have ties to Marymount.
Please see below for extended biographical information on each:
Dr. Gwendolyn Francavillo is a tenured Associate Professor and Chair of Marymount’s Department of Health and Human Performance. She has taught and conducted research at universities for 22 years with expertise in stress management and wellness, yoga, sexuality, global health and public health ethics. One of her professional endeavors is to establish an interest among her students in research methods and theoretical foundation. Dr. Francavillo has a Ph.D. and master’s degree in Public Health, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. She has received funding, published findings and presented at national conferences.
Dr. Sara Pappa is an Assistant Professor at Marymount, where she teaches and manages the regional falls prevention initiative. In a previous role, she worked as a Public Health Project Manager at the Fairfax County Health Department. Dr. Pappa has over 16 years of experience managing public health projects at the local, regional and state levels.
Dr. Julia Kish Doto is a health communication researcher and educator focused on using theory-based strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Fueled by connecting with people and learning about their health behaviors, Dr. Kish Doto has conducted research with hard-to-reach and vulnerable audiences in the areas of mental health, health literacy, chronic disease prevention and nutrition. She values the importance of information dissemination and has published over 20 research articles in peer-reviewed health journals, including JAMA, and has won awards for her research presentations at national conferences. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at Marymount, and trains early career public health professionals on core responsibilities and competencies necessary for success.
Dr. Jacqueline Johnson has been teaching yoga for over 25 years, and specializes in gentle yoga, meditation and breathwork for stress management. She is also an end-of-life coach, aka death doula. She is a current adjunct faculty member at Marymount, and a former faculty member at George Washington University and George Mason University. She has taught courses in Health Education, Health Psychology, Community Health and Stress Management. Her research has focused on women’s health, smoking cessation and body image and weight constructs.