Therapy dogs brought to campus for finals week

With the goal of teaching students healthy ways to deal with stress, Marquette Student Government and the Counseling Center brought five therapy dogs to the Alumni Memorial Union Monday afternoon as students prepare for finals.

The event, part of the Counseling Center’s “Take a Break: Finals Edition” effort, gave students the opportunity to relieve pre-finals worries by drinking coffee, eating cupcakes and petting the trained therapy dogs provided by Health Heelers, a local nonprofit organization.

“Research has shown that the companionship of animals can relieve stress,” said Christopher Daood, assistant director of the Counseling Center, in an email. “Hanging out with a friendly animal reminds (students) of meaningful pet relationships, and this can help keep the stress of finals in perspective.”

In addition to the therapy dogs, students received handouts and were given tips about better time management, sleep and self-care.

“There are a number of other things that will help manage stress, like staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, reducing or eliminating alcohol and drug use and exercising,” Daood said.

Therapy dogs will return to campus Thursday from 4-6 p.m. in the Raynor Library entrance and the private dining room in McCormick Hall.

With high expectations and demands put on students during finals week, some students said they previously observed or experienced high levels of stress that border on unhealthy.

“I think finals stress is a problem, especially when you have a bunch of harder classes and they’re all overlapping,” said Cece Ford, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. “Some people have lighter schedules, but I definitely see (finals) really getting to people.”

Finals stress can drive students to adapting unhealthy habits.

“I would say people get pretty freaked out (about finals),” said Ashley Hockers, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. “I know some people who stay up at really late hours just so they can study.”

University-provided resources exist for students to use if they experience unmanageable stress.

“If stress feels like it’s getting overwhelming, get support from others,” Daood said. “If talking with friends and/or trying self-care strategies isn’t enough, come to the Counseling Center.”

Tyler Tucky, MUSG Program vice president and a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said MUSG’s Program Board is dedicated to reducing stress brought on by finals and midterm weeks.

“As far as I am aware, we have not conducted any surveys on student stress, but if that is a continual concern, as a part of MUSG’s mission we will seek to address that issue,” Tucky said in an email. “This semester, Program Board is working on making the therapy dogs a destination. The program (Monday) included cupcakes and coffee for the first time and on Thursday the program will feature whole pieces of fruit.”

Members of Health Heelers gave pictures of their dogs to students, encouraging them to think about petting the dogs in order to relax right before a final exam.

“It’s clinically proven that petting a dog lowers your blood pressure, which goes up when people are really stressed out,” said Joan Adler, therapy dog owner and Health Heelers volunteer. “Dogs are very much creatures that are in the moment, and I think it helps people be that way too.”

This is the second year therapy dogs came to campus after the program began last year.

“You can just see people exhale as they go from dog to dog,” Adler said. “I see the stress falling off (of students). It’s hard to be stressed when you’re smiling, and (I’m) seeing a lot of smiles today.”

The Counseling Center will sponsor three stress-reduction events during the spring 2014 semester.

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