Universities help students deal with exam-time stress

As exam season approaches, universities bring out more initiatives and resources for students to help them cope with the stress.

At Memorial University in Newfoundland (MUN), a student has been bringing her bearded dragons, Ryuu and Yuki, to campus since September 2016. 

The student, who wished to remain anonymous due to backlash she said she received from a previously published article, said she brings them to campus to help her peers who struggle with anxiety and stress, as well as provide them with an alternative for already-offered therapy dog sessions.

She said she has regular visitors, and has had overall positive feedback from those students. 

“They showed an amazing ability to soothe anxiety . . . [they] alerted me to my heart going out of rhythm . . . [I] never considered a service animal until one of my specialists said a service animal would be ideal . . . he suggested that I make [my dragon] a service animal,” the student said. 

She said students who are not comfortable with the reptiles are still respectful and have no problem with them being around, but they keep their distance.

The student also helped to revamp the mental health program called Stepped Care 2.0. 

In an interview with University Affairs, Peter Cornish, director of MUN’s Student Wellness and Counselling Centre, said the program first started in the U.K. approximately 20 years ago, where treatment methods or options given to the patient are based on the level of distress. 

Cornish said in an email that the program offers the lowest level of intervention warranted by the initial and ongoing assessments.

“Treatment intensity can be either stepped up or down depending on the level of patient distress or need,” he said.

He said the approach is aimed at empowering patients to maximize and manage their own wellness to the best of their ability. 

But, Cornish said that stress, and even high levels of stress is a normal part of university and college life.

“Academic programs are meant to be challenging. Learning does not happen without confusion and pressures,” he said. 

He said that access to therapy animals like dogs and bearded dragons can help students to “accept the stress, be with it and for a few moments wind down, relax and feel compassion to self and others.” 

Carleton University also has its own therapy dogs, Blue and Uncle Steven.

Erik Van Brenk, a first-year mechanical engineering student at Carleton, said he finds that dogs are happy all the time.

“They are joyful; it rubs off on me in times of high stress like exams,” he said.

Earlier this month, Western University launched a new after-hours walk-in clinic for students dealing with mental health crisis, according to a university press release.

“Mental health issues among young people have become a real problem, not just at Western, but at post-secondary institutions across Canada, and we need to provide supports that make sense for them during tumultuous times,” Cynthia Gibney, director of Western’s Student Health Services, said in the press release.

The walk-in clinic will use existing space at Student Health Services at Western, and Canadian Mental Health Association counsellors will help students with problem-solving and coping strategies and make referrals to additional or ongoing supports both on-campus and off-campus.

Talia Rampelt, a second-year global and international studies student at Carleton and residence fellow, said exercise paired with lots of sleep is how she relieves her own stress. 

She said as an residence fellow, she has to balance her own mental health and the needs of the students on her floor.

“If I am on the floor and students’ needs are too demanding for me to get my own work done, I take a designated amount of time to get work done at the library, and when I am here, I am just focusing on floor work,” she said. 

Rampelt said her advice to students is to prioritize self-care.

“Your mental health is the most important thing at the end of the day . . . don’t let your exams consume you,” she said.