As midterms approach, the opportunity to unwind could not have been more timely.
The eighth annual VolAware Street Fair took place Wednesday on Pedestrian Walkway, offering a variety of activities designed to reduce stress and promote mental health, including a "make-a-friend" ball pit, a popcorn stand, a therapy dog and suicide prevention training.
Booths from a slew of different organizations lined the edges of the walkway, featuring one stand representing the UT Counseling Center. Here, students could make stress balls out of balloons and sand.
Ashley Wilson, a doctoral intern in clinical psychology, supervised this booth.
Wilson said school brings stress to students for a number of reasons.
"Students are coming in and they often experience a lot of depression or a lot of anxiety around school related stuff," Wilson said. "Being a college student is really hard because there's a lot of work involved, but it's also a big transition for a lot of people too. It's very different from high school; a lot of people are away from home, away from family, so there's a lot of stress that goes in that too."
Wilson also provided some advice on how students can combat stress.
"We have these stress balls here that can be very helpful, something to kind of squeeze and feel the difference between tension and relaxation in your body," Wilson said. "Another thing that students can do on their own is practicing deep breathing and other self-soothing strategies like going for a walk, or baking.
"Anything that you can do to help yourself feel like it's relaxing ... The best things you can do to stay mentally well – get your eight hours of sleep a night, exercise, and eat well."
Another booth, hosted by the Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee, allowed students to interact with a therapy dog named Shelby.
Karen Armsey, the program's administrator, said many students who stopped at her booth talked about their own pets.
"You know, we've been talking a lot about people's dogs that they had to leave at home," Armsey said. "You know, 'I miss my dog so much,' 'I have a dog like this,' or 'I lost my dog recently,' and some grief issues. So, a lot of kids just ... missing their dogs. It all just depends on the person."
Armsey mentioned that her organization will have dogs available for students in Hodges library next week for midterms and again during finals.
"We're just here to make people realize that animals lower blood pressure, and lower stress hormones ... (and it's) just a feel-good thing," she said.
Brooke Conner, freshman in management, enjoyed her time at the fair and looked forward to returning at 3 p.m. for Yoga Fest, an attempt to set a record for the largest number of students practicing yoga together.
"I really liked the ball pit ... and the jousting inflatables," she said. "I liked learning the different booths, like what's on campus to, you know, get involved with. I liked learning about the counseling center and the resources here on campus, and I got ... stress balls, and just goodies like that. I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to the yoga."