Barking rings through the library. The therapy dogs are in.

For the past two and a half years, Donna Liu, library community development leader, has held the “Paws and De-stress” event at the library to help students deal with anxiety. Liu says about 200 students come to see the therapy dogs each day they visit.

Starting with therapy dogs, the library’s de-stress week has grown to include massage therapists, craft workshops, meditation workshops, and gaming activities. Here we’ve reviewed three of the week’s events (and relaxed just a little bit too as a result).

And while the dogs may be at the centre of the week, the other activities provided innovative ideas to chill out and take a break. As U of T students, we’ve got the billion-word essay, late-night term test studying, and never-ending lab report thing down pat. But what is this “relaxing” business, we say?

Was that listed on the syllabus somewhere?


Meditation with Dr. Graham

“Allow your thoughts to go still,” Dr. Jeff Graham told participants at the meditation workshop as about 58 students crowded around him in the T-room at the library. I’ll be honest; deadlines and percentages buzzed in my mind.

Graham told us that exhaling tells the muscles in the body to relax. Herbert Benson at Harvard University studied “the relaxation response”. Researchers found that participants who meditated “gained the benefits of a night’s rest in 20 minutes”.

Students passed out handouts with a bibliography (ew, bibliography… not another, please!) of research and the meditation technique steps.


Meditation Technique
  1. Shake down and relax.
  2. Do five or 10 deep breaths.
  3. Recall the last time you were really relaxed.
  4. Progressively relax your muscles from feet to head (imagine a white light body scan).
  5. Allow your thoughts to go still.

Graham explained the steps before walking us through the first four twice. He then guided us through step five. “Clear your mind of all thoughts, place your attention everywhere in your body all at once, or watch your body breathe,” he said.

I heard typing, voices and people walking past the T-room when I closed my eyes. I focused on breathing deeply and not reciting my to-do list. After 15 or 20 minutes, Graham told us to open our eyes.

I felt like I had emerged from a nap.


Get Crafty

With the holiday season upon us, the “Get Crafty” de-stressor event offered students ideas for low-cost yet thoughtful Christmas gifts that you can make yourself in no time at all.

For your friend who spends her entire paycheque on those rainbow-coloured bath bombs from LUSH, the UTM Library Ambassadors showed us how to make our own low-cost alternative. Our DIY bath bombs were made by combining some Epsom salt, a few drops of essential oils, and a little bit of water in rubber trays with moulded star shapes. After about an hour, we popped out our aromatic flower- and star-shaped bath bombs. The joy of seeing my creation made me almost completely forget that exams start in a week.

We also made our own lip balm by mixing oil, beeswax, and essential oils in a double boiler. Not only was the experience stress-relieving, it also was kind of exciting. And despite the fact that the activities sound slightly girl-oriented, there were surprisingly many male students in attendance—who, might I add, thoroughly enjoyed themselves.


Sit and Be Fit

Friday’s surprise de-stressor activity turned out to be what they called “Sit and Be Fit”, an event designed to encourage UTM students not to neglect their physical well-being during the exam season and specifically not allowing them to become chained to their desk chairs while studying.

As a break from their usual hard-backed chairs, UTM students were encouraged to spend a few minutes sitting on an exercise balance ball instead and trying out a few simple exercises such as raising one leg off the ground and trying to maintain their balance.

When I first sat on the balance ball, it was mostly for fun. I just bounced around for a while. But after about five minutes of sitting up straight on the ball, I actually started to feel the muscles in my back working, especially after doing a few simple exercises.

The effect of my five minutes of exercise stayed with me the entire afternoon. I felt myself standing a little taller. I normally blame hours of sitting in back-to-back lectures for my back pains, but who knew sitting could also be the cure?