SDSU therapy dog helps students manage final exam stress

by Natalia Xibille, Contributor

With finals starting, Associated Students and San Diego State’s Counseling and Psychological Services department are helping students manage stress and get through the challenging week of exams.

“One of the most important influences on stress is your perception of the resources you have available to deal with the demand you are facing,” psychology associate professor Lisa Kath said.

Baxter the therapy dog will be in Love Library for several hours on Dec. 11 and 14. He is also available by appointment at the Counseling and Psychological Services office. Students can pet Baxter and spend time with him to take their mind off of final exams.

The Center for Well-Being, which is open all year, serves as an important resource in the last weeks of the semester. The center is equipped with a massage chair, a meditation room and an alpha chamber, which is an enclosed pod that plays natural soundscapes and landscapes to soothe the user inside.

“Anxiety is the No. 1 reason why people come to the center,” Counseling and Psychological Services Director Jennifer Rikard said. “Some people will get really stressed and have panic attacks, crying spells and not be able to sleep.”

Stress is also linked to weakening of the immune system, frequent headaches and stomach aches, and decreases in cardiovascular health, Kath said.

However, Rikard emphasized that it isn’t stress that causes these problems, but rather how students cope with the stress.

“The behaviors or lack of behaviors caused by stress are what lead to health problems,” she said.

These include unhealthy exercise habits, sleep deprivation and alcohol and drug consumption. However, coping behaviors are very individualized, Rikard said.

“You couldn’t say this amount of stress affects everyone in the same way,” she said.

To cope with the pressure of final exams, Kath and Rikard have a variety of tips.

Kath suggests getting a good night’s sleep, organizing a study schedule and studying a small amount each day rather than staying up late cramming the night before an exam.

She also recommends a change of perspective.

“It’s much healthier to think of finals exams as a challenge than a hindrance,” Kath said.

Rikard encourages students to take the time to reflect on what coping and study methods have worked for them in the past.

“You want to spend your time doing strategies that match your learning style,” Rikard said. “It’s all about what works for you.”