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Stress Busters: Helping Students Survive and Thrive During Exams

Many of the students we support academically feel intense pressure to succeed. Add final exams to the mix and the increase in anxiety is palpable.

At the James A. Gibson Library at Brock University, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to holistically support our students and promote our services and resources. This year, we seemed to hit the sweet spot with a suite of exam tools to reduce exam-time stress.

For several years, the generous staff at the Gibson Library have baked, bought and donated cookies and sweets for our semi-annual Exam Cookie Days. Held over the course of one day during the exam periods in December and April, this event is a huge hit with our students. It seems a little sugar goes a long way to developing goodwill and letting the students know we are pulling for them.

Worry Box

We expanded our feel-good arsenal this spring by piloting the giveaway of lucky exam pens and a variety of colouring sheets & crayons. A worry box was located in a prominent area where students could deposit their concerns and mentally let them go.

Health Sciences professor Paula Gardner leads staff and students in a mindfulness session
Health Sciences professor Paula Gardner leads staff and students in a mindfulness session

Rounding out our stress reduction campaign were two mindfulness events facilitated by Prof. Paula Gardner, a Brock Health Sciences professor who regularly uses this evidence-based practice in her classes to reduce students’ stress and increase their focus. Gardner led two short sessions in the library during April exams: although participants spent just 10 minutes concentrating on their breathing instead of all the hectic worries crowding their minds, they left feeling calmer and clear-headed. Research has shown that mindfulness offers numerous positive benefits including reducing tension and boosting memory and attention – critical qualities during exam time.

Students have been delighted with these initiatives. The colouring sheets were replenished numerous times and, while the mandala designs and geometric shapes were well received, it seems the Hello Kitty page was the favourite of our colouring mavens.

The lucky pens went in a flash each time they were re-stocked – even though a disclaimer read: “Luck is not a substitute for proper exam preparation!”

Lucky Pens

Poignant concerns were jotted down and dropped into the worry box. In all 94 “worries” were placed in the box – some serious (money, depression, relationships), many exam-related, and of course some frivolous thoughts too.

And although staff members outnumbered the students at the mindfulness sessions, that’s OK. After all, everyone deserves less stress!

Evelyn Smith is the Help Desk Co-ordinator at the Gibson Library, Brock University. You can reach her at esmith [at]

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