Opinion | Students leave gift of stress management unopened

By Julia Kreutzer, For The Pitt News

The Cathedral commons and dorm rooms are filled with Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs and dazzling twinkle lights, but students must survive finals week before they can truly “Deck the Halls.”

During the week of finals, thousands of students spend countless hours holed up in Hillman Library while cramming for back-to-back exams. But students have more than tests to worry about.

During study breaks spent scrolling through Facebook, you find your feed is flooded with aggressive political arguments and intense moral disagreements. The girl at the table next to you keeps giving you the side-eye for using a plastic straw with your espresso-laden iced coffee. And because you used all of your dining dollars at Chick-fil-A, you can’t afford to get that piece of cake you’ve been planning on stress-eating from the Forbes Street Market.

Studying for multiple exams is taxing enough, but when you factor in everything else going on in life, finals week proves exceptionally challenging for students. While we’ve been slammed with burdens from all angles, the University has created several opportunities for students to combat the stresses of the season — we just have to actually use them.

The Stress Free Zone offers a quiet, calming sanctuary for when a quick study break at Cup and Chaucer isn’t cutting it. Student Affairs offers several walk-in services at the Stress Free Zone. Private areas for guided meditations or yoga and massage chairs make the space perfect for a relaxing break. Peer educators are available to guide students in using a biofeedback machine, which provides a visual diagram of your body’s reaction to various mental states.

Frequent use can enhance self-regulation skills, which, according to their website, can decrease reactivity and anxiety. The Stress Free Zone also offers Day Light Lamp Therapy, which can realign the body’s circadian rhythm and literally brighten your day after a long night in Hillman. If you’re looking for a more active way to burn off some steam, the gym down the hall is the perfect place for a quick work out, without having to walk up Cardiac Hill.

Student Affairs is sponsoring two weeks of special “De-Stress B4 the Tests” events Dec. 3-12, including stress ball making, yoga, meditation, cycling classes, Zumba and barre classes.

The basement of the University Store offers a similar feature. There lies the Center for Creativity, an innovative outlet for students of all interests. Filled with dozens of tools to unleash your inner creativity, this hidden gem allows everyone, from musicians to engineers, to briefly escape their assignments.

Students have plastered the chalkboard walls with doodles, including everything from stars to complete portraits. The tables are covered with origami manuals and colorful paper, allowing students to create a beautiful souvenir for their dorm, or to hang with one of the swans strung around the space. 3-D printers are available, allowing students to gain first-hand experience with a tool that has seemingly endless possibilities. In the glass cubicle filled with a keyboard, guitars, drums and other instruments, channeling your inner Michael Buble is easier than ever. Students can even leave any unfinished projects safely stored for a week, alleviating the pressure to complete a project in just one study break.

This year, the Center for Creativity will host a finals week event to directly encourage use of the space during this week. Hot Chocolate and Chill will take place in the Center for Creativity 3-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 12 for students to “draw, type, or paint your way to some inner peace.” Hot cocoa and snacks will be provided.

Unfortunately, it seems these spaces remain largely untouched while students attempt to conquer the mountain of work stacked on their plates. Mike Campbell, who works at the Center for Creativity, explained finals week had an adverse effect on use of the facility last winter.

“Last year, in the week before finals, 285 people swiped into the Center for Creativity,” Campbell said. “During finals week, only 170 people came, mostly concentrated toward the end of the week.”  This means only 0.87 percent of the 19,330 undergraduate students at the University are utilizing one of its resources during one of the most stressful weeks of the year.

Students were comfortable using the space to perfect Halloween costumes, making the last week of October their most popular of the year, but it seems they fail to view the space as anything more than an arts and crafts studio. The Center for Creativity was designed for students “to make things, to think through questions or problems by engaging hands and minds … or to try new things without fear of ‘failure.’” It’s time we view it that way.

While students underutilize resources like the center, it seems we are instinctively drawn to one, incredibly popular and immensely relaxing resource — dogs. Each Tuesday at 7 p.m., several of man’s best friends line the Cathedral lobby for the singular goal of helping students let go of the day’s troubles. According to Marsha Robbins, creator of Therapy Dog Tuesdays, this event has “consistent weekly support.”

Robbins attributed its success to its warm and accepting environment.

“The original goal of the program was to give students a safe, happy, legal way to get a break from the rigors of college life,” Robbins said. “The program has thrived because the students love our puppies and the safe, non-judgmental environment we bring.”

We expect long study sessions and pre-test jitters this week, but we shouldn’t allow tremendous anxiety and overwhelming stress to take over. Instead of camping out at Hillman or spending your “five minute” breaks watching Youtube videos, soothe your frazzled mind by mastering a yoga position or crafting a collage. With the holidays only a few weeks away, be sure to give yourself the gift of stress relief this finals week.