Relief for students in finals meltdown

Exams: Many colleges and universities offer creative ways to soothe stress as the semester draws to a harried close.

May 18, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It's crunch time at many college campuses.

The coffee is percolating. Almost-new textbooks are cracked open. Fingers click away at computer keyboards from morning until night. The stress level is high as college students across the state prepare for end-of-the-year exams.

Too many all-nighters? Got the caffeine jitters?

To help students calm their wracked nerves, many colleges are offering some relief. Whether it's free massages or color therapy at Towson University, yoga at the University of Michigan or free Ben & Jerry's ice cream bars at the University of Iowa, colleges around the country are getting into the game. Some also offer free concerts, candy bars or survival kits filled with aspirin.

"College is so stressful," said Delora Sanchez, an 18-year-old speech pathology freshman at Towson University as she grabbed black, blue and green "good luck stones" at Towson University's recent stress relief bonanza -- a day of free massages, foot rubs, cartoons and pep food.

"One rock is for calmness, one is for concentration and one is for the fun I'll have after it's all over," said Sanchez, who was heading for the massage therapist. She had this week's psychology and phonetics exams to work out of her system.

During the three weeks before finals, most school counseling centers see a moderate rise in the number of students seeking help to relieve stress, said Gregory N. Reising, assistant director at Towson's counseling center.

It's that time of year when many students realize skipping that chemistry lab after an all-night drinking game of quarters wasn't such a good idea and when others are unable to cope with so many research projects.

If untreated, students can panic.

"It's very important to pay attention to stress," Reising said. "Being in college and working hard in classes is very stressful. These stress relievers right before finals could be that extra little boost that helps you pace yourself at the end of the semester.

"But if that's all you do to get rid of stress, then it's not enough to get you through the entire year," Reising warned.

Experts say it's not just about grades anymore. Many students have jobs, supporting themselves while taking difficult course loads, and some are even parents.

Stress-relief tactics vary. Alternative medicine. Naps. Classical music. Exercise or food. But the key, experts say, is the same: relax, relate and release before the blood pressure rises.

At the Johns Hopkins University, hundreds of students pulled their noses out of books long enough to attend a recent relaxation fair. Students waged water balloon fights, squeezed sand-filled stress balls, sniffed herb essences and sat down for tarot card readings.

St. John's College in Annapolis offers no stress relief during the school's annual oral exams. But students let 'er rip in a chaotic, weekend-long, school-sponsored party after those exams are completed. The main attractions are live music, food and games like the "Ptolemy epicycle races" that are based on classic literature.

At the more subdued Goucher College campus, free massages and barbecues at dormitories were a hit this year, along with dessert and coffee in the student-run, alcohol-free Gopher Hole bar.

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, dozens of alumni handed out candy bars that read, "Good Luck on Finals from your Alumni Association."

"Any little bit helps," said David Moore, associate director of UMBC alumni relations. "It lets them know we're here for you during this stressful week."

At Towson, students walked into a room filled with yellow happy face balloons, New Age panpipe music oozing from the speakers and booths filled with counselors, campus ministry representatives and food. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck argued and clobbered each other on a screen nearby.

"As soon as you walk in the door -- poof -- you're stress-free," joked Rachele Ihle, 19, an instructional technology major who was suffering computer class anxiety.

"Obviously, you're not taking biology," snapped Katie Brewer, a 19-year-old history and education major standing nearby.

Waiting to ease their tension was Joy Forbes, a color therapist, who shined a flashlight pen with different colors at energy pressure points on their bodies. Orange, she said, is a healing color that spurs creativity while yellow stimulates intelligence.

The colors, she said, help balance energy levels to heal the body.

But it could just be the 10 minutes of quiet time that helps. Concentrating on nothing is far less stressful than remembering what the Marshall Plan did and when it was proposed.

Whispered Brewer after her session was through, "I don't know if it worked, but it was worth the try. Maybe I'll feel it later."

And for hapless students in finals angst, there's always prayer.

"But if they haven't studied," quipped Paul Collinson, the Lutheran campus pastor manning the ministries booth at Towson, "prayer won't help you much at all."

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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