FSU helps make students stress fur-ee

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: KERRA SEAY
Little Baxter enjoys some pats during FSU's Chill Lounge.

As exam time rolls around the corner, stress starts to increase at a pace many students are not pre­pared for.

But Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) is trying their best to help with many initiatives.

One specific event is the Chill Lounge, which started in 2013 af­ter the FSU went to the annual conference with the Association of Managers in Canadian College University and Student Centres (AMICCUS-C) and heard about other schools putting on events like this one.

“I kind of borrowed the idea from another student union,” said Carol Balzer, FSU's administrative services manager. “We had a ses­sion on kind of Steal this Idea and people were showcasing ideas, so I stole their idea.”

According to Balzer as soon as she heard about bringing dogs to campus, she knew this was some­thing she wanted to bring to Fan­shawe.

“We were just talking about how stressful it is during exam time and we were trying to find something to give back to the students and we thought this was an easy way to do that.”

According to PAWS for People, there are significant benefits to in­teracting with animals, specifically with physical and mental health

Students enjoy some puppy love, the perfect way to relax.Students enjoy some puppy love, the perfect way to relax. CREDIT: (LEFT) MITCH GAYLOR; (RIGHT) JESSICA THOMPSON

Some of the common physical benefits, according to the web­site, are lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, releasing endorphins such as oxy­tocin, that have a calming effect, di­minishing overall physical pain and according to research the act of pet­ting produces an automatic relax­ation response and in some cases, reduces the amount of medication some people require.

With a specific focus on mental health, in which countless students struggle with, especially during exam time, interacting with gently, friendly pets has a significant im­pact on overall mental wellness.

According to PAWS, this interac­tion lifts spirits and lessens depres­sion, it decreases feelings of isola­tion and alienation, it encourages communication, provides comfort, increases socialization and a sense of community, reduces boredom, decreases anxiety and reduces lone­liness to list a few of the benefits.

And according to third year child and youth care student Shania Dirstein, she is extremely grateful to the FSU for bringing the Chill Lounge to the students.

“Student initiatives such as this are important because they help bring a sense of community,” Dirstein said. “It really reinforces that the college does have your best interests in mind, and do not want us to burn out.”

Dirstein also found that the inter­action with animals was beneficial to her mental health.

“Being able to interact with the therapy dogs really helped me emo­tionally. I recently had my own dog pass away while I was in college, had not being able to say goodbye, and with the added stress of exams, having a few moments to myself was important.”

According to Candice Lawrence, a counsellor with Fanshawe's Counselling and Accessibility Ser­vices, Dirstein is not alone in the benefits she discovered from using FSU's Chill Lounge.

“Usually just before midterms [or finals], maybe all throughout the se­mester, students are pretty stressed out and the pets kind of provide a playful diversion,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence has worked some of the Chill Lounges, both at Down­town Campus and Fanshawe's main campus, and said students had noth­ing but positives to say about their experiences.

“Students always say this has been so nice to do this, it's relaxing, it's taking my mind off of exams,” Lawrence said. “In general, pets really do bring a lot of comfort to people, it helps people relax.”

The upcoming Chill Lounge will be on both April 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Forwell Hall and students will be able to not only play with some dogs, they will also be able to play video games, get a free massage and get some free, healthy food.

According to Balzer, the fruit and vegetables are provided by a local farmers market and the granola bars are provided by Oasis.

What is new this year is that stu­dents who are stuck on campus late at night studying, will be treated to a de-stress bag. These bags will have Kleenex's with messages on them, smarties, stress balls, tea, popcorn and gum just to list a few.

Balzer hopes with both the de-stress bags and the Chill Lounges, students will be able to take a break and relieve some stress.

“It is a destination that students want to go to, and when you go down there and see how happy stu­dents are,” Balzer said. “Whatever we can do, we will do to make it better for students.”