Universities and colleges ease final exam stress with innovative programs

College students still pull all-nighters and ingest prodigious amounts of caffeine during finals week, but they can also choose creative programs to help ease the stress of exams.

John Carroll University students sip hot chocolate and roast s’mores over a fire pit outside Grasselli Library the night before exams begin. Earlier that evening, a “blessing of the brains” will occur at a Mass.

Final exams at many of Ohio’s public and private universities are given over the next two weeks. A mix of activities, including games, crafts and music, are offered by student affairs staff, while those in counseling and wellness centers provide stress- and anxiety-reducing advice and programs, including meditation and petting dogs provided by the college.

The goal is to get students to relax and to keep their lives balanced.

“During finals you can feel the stress — it becomes kind of palpable,” said Lori Morgan Flood, an assistant dean and director of the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion at Oberlin.

There has been an increasing emphasis on wellness over the last five years, said Flood, who has been at the college 13 years.

“I am not sure if it is that the students are more able to acknowledge their stress level and ask for help or the nature of the college experience,” she said. “Students really take their education seriously and get really driven and forget to sleep, eat well and hydrate. We help them remember what is important.”

Melanie Scanlon, assistant director for student activities and leadership at Case Western Reserve University, agreed.

“We realize finals can be a stressful time,” Scanlon said. “We want to make sure students are mentally healthy and take time for breaks and to eat. They need to take care of themselves.”

Kelsey Gilbert, 20, an education, French and international studies major from The Dalles, Ore., decorated a picture frame with fellow juniors Sarah Lukowski and Andrew Jorgensen, both 20.

“Some people bring their work with them and get food and then study,” she said. “It’s nice to just get out of the library and relax a little.”

Sophomore Molly Francis, 19, sat down with friends to eat. A mechanical engineering major facing five finals, she was feeling the stress.

“I kind of want to claw my eyes out,” she said. “It’s really crazy, but I still wanted to come to this because it’s a fun thing to do that doesn’t involve finals.”

CWRU, like many universities, offers breakfast at midnight in dining halls, where faculty, staff and administrators serve food from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. the night before exams begin.

Some programs became so popular during finals week that they now are offered year-round.

For instance, the art therapy program at Oberlin allows students to release stress by painting, drawing and doing other art projects. Students at Baldwin-Wallace College use the Mind Spa, which includes relaxation CDs, a chair massage and light box therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Universities are always seeking new activities for finals week, officials said.

Oberlin’s five-minute dance marathon was introduced this fall during midterms, Flood said. Since most students study in the library, there are music breaks at 5 and 11 p.m.

When a song, chosen by students in an online poll, played from an iPod plugged into speakers, more than 100 students there stood up and danced, she said.