University of Alberta's first Calm Room is 'just what students need' to help with exam stress and anxiety

A student-led space at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine supports mental health through LEGO, virtual reality and relaxation

Laurie Wang - 23 April 2019

When you first enter the Calm Room, you see LEGO, adult colouring books, snacks and a virtual reality station. For some, this space may not mean much, but for many University of Alberta students, this is space that is meaningful-and just what they need during exams to help with stress and anxiety management.

The student-led space in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine supports mental health through activity or "doing."

"The vibe of the Calm Room is different from other areas on campus. It's quieter, dimmer, and inviting," says Ciara McDaniel, MSc Occupational Therapy student who is part of Calm Room team. "VR is one feature that sets it apart. It is very cool to have free access to this technology."

Located in Corbett Hall at UAlberta main campus, the Calm Room is very much activity-based. Providing activities for students to do helps them regulate their stress, be present in the moment and promotes overall mental wellness.

Shaniff Esmail, associate chair, Department of Occupational Therapy, says research in mental health and occupational therapy shows calm, non-academic physical spaces help students freely engage in mindful activities to de-stress at any time. "In occupational therapy, we believe in the therapeutic value of doing. A Calm Room helps create an environment that supports self-care."

"The Calm Room is a place where I don't have to be 'the productive, high-achieving student running on three cups of coffee, who has no time.' In the Calm Room, I can simply just be me," says Miranda Lisowski, MSc Occupational Therapy student on the Calm Room team. "The existence of the Calm Room communicates to students that it's OK to take a break. It's OK to be human and not a machine. It's OK to have needs and to take some time to care for yourself. It normalizes mental health self-care, and it does it in a unique and accessible way right on campus."

The Calm Room is a student-led project supported by the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Occupational Therapy, Being Mentally Healthy, U of A Students' Union Department of Research and Advocacy, and Heroes for Health. The team will survey other students who use the Calm Room to measure its benefits and eventually provide a case for more Calm Rooms across campus. More than 100 students have used the Calm Room so far and the feedback has been very positive.

"As I have had my own battles with mental health over the years, the Calm Room has been a place where I feel 'at home' within the context of my post-secondary education," says Katie Scoffield, MSc Occupational Therapy student. "There are quiet room and student rooms, but there hasn't been an in-house space where students can have a reprieve from stimulation and focus on their mental wellness.

A healthy campus is one where self-care is normalized and accessible. The Calm Room is just what students need, especially during exam time!"