Relax: Reducing Penn State Student Stress Marta Bakaj, Rachel Shi, Rina Shokes, Jack Williams, and Yunsik Won

Penn State students lack feasible opportunities to relieve stress.

Stress is part of the daily life at Pennsylvania State University. Students are often exposed to stress. Academic factors are one of the most significant stressors. Without more tangible options for students to utilize, they will continue to be stuck in the cycle of not having immediate coping mechanisms.

What does Penn State offer?

The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) was established to provide students with coping mechanism. CAPS offer short-term counseling, crisis intervention and psychological evaluations. It is a phenomenal resource on campus. However, the wait list to speak to a counselor is weeks long. Students with daily stressors cannot afford to wait that long.

Students deserve immediate access to stress relievers provided by the campus.

It is important to give students resources to relieve stress because of the physical and psychological damage stress can cause.

Statistics show the damage stress is doing to students.


There is copious amounts of research showing how stress can negatively affect students. Here are just a few examples.

Independent and Relative Effects of Stress, Depressive Symptoms, and Affect on College Students’ Daily Health Behaviors

It is known that maladaptive health behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and poor eating are used to cope with stress. These behaviors promote emotional regulation and reduced distressed that comes from a student’s circumstances. They can be conscious or not conscious (an example being mindless eating) and may also arise because stressful circumstances restrict resources such as time and energy that would allow for healthy behaviors. This research found that chronic and daily stress were associated with students having maladaptive health behaviors and effects students participation in daily healthy behaviors. This decreases overall health of students and may affect other aspects of their lives.

Serum Leptin and Cortisol, Related to Acutely Perceived Academic Examination Stress and Performance in Female University Students

Cortisol and leptin are two biomarkers of stress in the body. This study measured cortisol and leptin levels and related them to academic performance. It found that moderate amount of stress can increase academic performance. These moderate (optimal) levels correlated to increased leptin levels which are a factor in memory retrieval. However, the study also found that high levels of stress correlate to lower academic performance. This indicated that students with high stress levels need resources to lower higher stress levels in order to be in the optimal range of stress which could help academic performance.

Stress at College: Effects on Health Habits, Healths Status and Self-esteem

This study found how stress correlated to various negative behaviors. It found that student with high stress level consume more unhealthy food such as soda and junk food which would decrease the overall health of the student. In relation to high unhealthy food consumption, students with high stress levels exercise less regularly and eat less fruits and vegetables than do students who experience lower stress levels. Highly stressed students also get enough sleep less regularly and have lower self esteem (are less satisfied with their GPA) than do students with low stress. These factors hurt the student not only physically, but mentally as well.

This Challenge can be solved by providing Students with more ways to relieve and reduce stress

Animal Therapy

1. Animal therapy can be helpful to lower chronic stress. Currently, animal therapy is only available about two times a semester. Students should have more opportunities to interact with therapy animals because there is research showing the benefits of animal therapy. This research found that exposure to therapy dogs greatly reduces post exam stress which can help students physical and mental well being. An added benefit is that students who interacted with therapy dogs before an exam had higher exam scores when compared to the scores of students who did not interact with therapy dogs.


2. Comfortable relaxation rooms with aquariums spread throughout campus could also be a resource for stressed out students. Aquarium will provide better atmosphere for people to relax and reduce their stress. There is research showing exposure fish reduces symptoms of stress. This research found that watching videos of fish significantly reduced heart rate and blood pressure, two of the most notable physical reactions to stress. These rooms would give students an area to clear their head which would allow them to focus on their studies.

More Study Days

3. PSU should expand time to study before the beginning of Finals. Currently, students only have about two days to study once classes end to study for their final exams. Giving students more study days allows them to plan their time to their studies and also give them time to relax. This action will provide less pressure and stress to students.

Kittens are also a Solution!

Who will be impacted?

Students at PSU will be impacted by solving or not solving the challenge. If the challenge is solved , they will have the opportunity to reduce stress and may improve in academic performance. If not, academic performance may decrease or stays the same and student may be faced with psychologic and physical symptoms of stress.

Other Universities are taking action!

What Difficulties are there in solving this Challenge?


  • Challenge: Some students may be allergic to animals that are brought to relieve stress for other students.
  • Possible Solution: A solution would be to bring in many different types of animals, thus increasing the chance a student can find an animal they are not allergic to.


  • Challenge: Consistently using therapeutic animals, maintaining aquariums, and putting together relaxation rooms to relieve stress for the massive body of students at Penn State will come with some form of financial burden.
  • Possible Solution: Appealing to Alumni on the basis of mental health improvement will likely lead to a variety of donations that can provide initial funding for the project.


  • Challenge: In order for this program to take off, a designated play area will need to be established to fit the occupational needs.
  • Possible Solution: A variety of spaces at Penn State are large enough to support a reasonable amount of therapeutic animals, aquariums, and students.

Resources to help solve this challenge


The University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) would be the best resource to reach out to about the project. Their mission is to improve the well being of undergraduate students here at Penn State, and can provide the funding necessary to support the project.


CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) is another resource for solving this problem. CAPS is very knowledgable in student stress and mental health. They would be a informational resource for those trying to solve this problem. They may have an influence in gaining stupport for the project.


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