AMES, Iowa — With a hectic week of finals looming, Lisa Sadler was playing with balloons, funnels and sand.
What would her professors think? After all, she has two presentations, two papers, one written exam and another take-home final within just days.
Relax. Sadler was building a stress ball--a balloon filled with sand to relieve tension--at a "stress zone" set up by Iowa State University to help its students deal with the strain of finals.
"Any other semester it wasn't a problem," Sadler, a 24-year-old elementary education major who hopes to graduate next week, said of finals. "This semester you have to make sure you get everything in."
Iowa State isn't alone. Colleges across the country are trying to help students relax as classes wind down and finals creep up next week, bringing with them stress, all-night study sessions and--hopefully--a measure of relief when they're finally over.
Primal screams can be heard at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and at Jacksonville University in Florida, where students will gather every half hour each evening next week to let it all out, verbally. Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., lets students spray paint a car--or bash it with a sledgehammer, baseball bat or crowbar.
At Iowa State's stress-free zone, there are dart guns, Play-Doh, balls, coloring books, building blocks and other toys students can use to get goofy while taking a break from studying.
"Just came here to chill out," said freshman Lana Gab, a 19-year-old engineering student taking a break from an English paper. "Got done typing after two hours and my brain is not functioning. After relaxing, I'm going back to typing."
At the stress-free zone, most students seemed too busy to relax.
"They think it's going to be stressful making the ball," said economics student and zone attendant Shazia Narmeen, 21. "One guy said it was fun, and he wished he had time to make two to three."
Helping students deal effectively with stress may help them avoid physical problems, experts say.
"A lot of times a student will walk into a student health center and say 'My stomach hurts,' " said Brett Prager, chief executive officer of Collegiate Health Care, a New York-based company that provides health care at 10 campuses nationwide.
"And in the very end of the discussion and getting into the problem . . . they say, 'Hey, I'm anxious. I'm finding out that I haven't been preparing for an exam as well as I should have been.' "