Weekend Roundup: CAPS to provide mental health break during finals season

Virginia Lozano/Daily Buy this photo

By Brad Whipple, Daily Weekend Contributor
Published April 16, 2014

As the winter semester winds down, finals are only a week away, making this time of year particularly stressful. But it’s not just limited to final examinations.

Todd Sevig, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University, said for some students, the end of the semester can mean a lot more than filling out a blue book.

“In addition to the stress of exams, projects, papers and lab reports, for some students the transition into summer can also be stressful,” Sevig said. “Whether it’s graduating, an internship or going home and spending summer there.”

Maintaining a healthy mentality is extremely important when working toward success. Sevig said it’s a practice that students should engage in year-round, but especially during finals. CAPS, a network of professionals and students promoting mental wellness within the University community, provides the necessary tools throughout the school year to ease overwhelming stress.

“If there’s one thing I’m trying to promote through everything we do, it is the science of when we take care of ourselves,” Sevig said. “When we build in stress and anxiety management on a regular basis we perform better. We have better relationships and we do better on tests, including finals.”

The CAPS Stressbuster app, released earlier this semester, is one of the many resources available to students. The app includes fun daily messages written by University students, faculty, parents and even alumni. In addition to inspirational tips, the app includes soothing audio tracks that aim to increase concentration.

Though using the app the night before an exam won’t help performance, Sevig encourages students to use the app on a consistent basis in the upcoming week before exams.

“Little things do make a difference,” Sevig said. “It’s the culmination, it’s the practice, it’s the almost every day of doing something like that — that actually does make a difference.”

Aside from the mobile app, Sevig said social connectedness also helps the mind. The CAPS Wellness Zone, which opened in 2011 and attracts roughly 4,000 students every year, is located on the third floor of the Union and provides a stress-free and entertaining environment for students.

The Zone includes massaging chairs, yoga and meditation, light therapy for seasonal affective disorder and an Xbox with Kinect. The Kinect system gets users' blood pumping through motion-controlled gaming. Sevig said stress relief doesn’t always include quiet meditation: having fun is also an integral part of maintaining a positive mentality.

The Wellness Zone is open during CAPS hours of business: Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Fridays until 5 p.m.

CAPS’ website also has links to two-minute videos that are meant to help manage depression. The videos offer tips on sleeping patterns, the relationship between diet and exercise and other ways of treating depression. There is also a 24-minute instructional video on progressive muscle relaxation available on YouTube that guides the listener through a series of subtle movements with the sound of ocean waves in the background.

As students begin to feel the weight of exams, Sevig advises students to hold onto the meaning of what they’re doing, because it’ll allow studying to come much more easily. He said the notion of doing your best is a matter of being consistent and keeping your eye on the big picture.

“It’s the idea that doing your best means not just the outcome or the output of a grade,” Sevig said. “Doing your best when we take care of ourselves means connecting with the passion of why you’re doing this in the first place.”

Sevig said mental health is both a science and an art. Multiple studies have shown that a 10 to 15 minute break for every hour of work improves efficiency. The art is what becomes of that break — some use it for meditation while others take a jog or dance.

“The art is figuring out what works for you,” Sevig said. “Stress and anxiety management is a highly individualized thing.”