Otago Polytechnic
Nathalie Heinze and Janine Hunter

Coping better with stress

An initiative by two occupational therapy students is helping other students reduce anxiety and stress.

Research shows that anxiety is one of the more common medical diagnoses made in tertiary students. “Anxiety can be managed through sensory modulation strategies,” explains Janine Hunter, one of the students involved.

“Sensory modulation is about making sense of the world by processing and responding to environmental stimuli using all seven senses – touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste, balance and spacial awareness.”

Her collaborator, Natalie Heinz, says high anxiety can have major effects on an individual. “High anxiety levels can impair someone’s ability to regulate their senses, which can in turn result in difficulties engaging in occupations or activities as students.” The pair decided to set up a sensory room as a way of mitigating the effects of anxiety. 

“We believed this would help students with anxiety to self-modulate, allowing them to better engage with their learning and the student community.”

They fitted out Studio 56, located in the Polytechnic carpark on Harbour Terrace, with objects that provide a range of sensory experiences.  As a pilot the room was open to the public from Wednesday 23 August to Friday 25 August 2017, from 9am to 3pm. During the pilot users of the space were asked to provide feedback on Natalie and Janine’s proposal for a permanent sensory space for students at Otago Polytechnic.

The pilot proved very popular, with many people taking the opportunity to use the room, both students and members of the wider public. Feedback was also very positive. As a result Chief Executive Phil Ker agreed that Studio 56 can be set up as a permanent sensory space. The Sensory Space is accessible by appointment with either Danni Holley or Natalie Heinz who are part of our Student Success team.

Watch the Channel 39 coverage of the pilot here.

Listen to the Radio NZ interview here.