Stressit App

Giving college students tools to manage everyday stress on campus.

Completed as my senior capstone at the University of Cincinnati

Problem Area

College students struggle to develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress from different sources. Existing resources tend to have high barriers to entry, with a formal, medical tone.

Outcome

Researched, designed and prototyped an app to provide college students easy access to proven stress management techniques.

Research

A deep dive into the mechanics of stress to find out why college is so stressful, and what can be done to cope.

“The message of this research is ultimately a positive one: eliciting the enhancing aspects of stress (as opposed to merely preventing the debilitating ones) may be, in part, a matter of changing one’s mindset.”

Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Crum AJ, Salovey P, Achor S.

Secondary Research Summary

1. Feeling stressed is normal
In a campus wide survey, 83.5% of University of Cincinnati students reported feeling overwhelmed at college.

2. Current resources aren't designed for widespread Use
If every student who could benefit from counseling sought help, current resources couldn’t handle the demand.

3. Techniques from therapy could help almost every student
Not every student has a mental illness, but almost every student could benefit from an increased ability to cope with stress.

4. Mindset Matters
The way we think about stress and failure can dramatically impact how it affects us and how we react.

Expert Interviews

Gaining perspective on the issue by talking with the director of counseling services and a designer working with Arizona State University to promote student health.

Tow Yee Yau, PhD: Licensed Psychologist, CAPS, Director of Health and Wellness at UC

Barbara Barry, Designer at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, working with Arizona State University on a student health project.

Two Types of Struggling Students

Teacups
Students who have a tough time dealing with the failures and setbacks they experience for the first time at college.
Crispies
Students who have been burned out by the pressures and expectations they place on themselves.

Journey Mapping

After exploring the news, research and expert opinions, I wanted to look at this problem from a student's perspective.

Initial Concepts

My first approaches centered around a printed book given to students at the start of especially difficult classes.

While students found this information valuable, the book format seemed overly official and didn't actually help students implement stress management in their lives.

Better Understanding Students' Stress

After learning from my first designs, I wanted to gather more experiences from students themselves.

I created a simple worksheet to let students chart their stress levels over time as well as the behaviors that helped or hindered them. While not meant to be scientific, this sheets helped me start conversations with fellow students about how stress affected their lives, and what they did to manage the pressures of school.

Designing for Action

Focusing on two aspects of stress that students can take steps to change.

Reframe Negative Thinking
Students often tie their identity to aspects of college, especially grades. If they don’t do perfectly in a class, it can feel like an attack on their identity. This type of thinking makes dealing with college especially difficult, since learning requires dealing with failure.

Change Unhelpful Habits
The overly self-critical thinking patterns are often reflected in students’ behaviors and coping mechanisms. Students can often fall into patterns of procrastinating on large, ambiguous projects, or working constantly and never taking a minute to step back.

Reframe Negative Thinking

Monitor Stress
You can’t change stress if you don’t know what’s causing it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy often involves self-monitoring situations which trigger stress, and reflecting on how you reacted.

Reframe Thoughts
Another technique from therapy, cognitive reframing is taking a negative, unproductive thought, and finding a more productive, realistic way to think about something.

Avoid Thinking Traps
Negative thinking often results from cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing events. Identifying when your thoughts are falling into these traps helps you find more productive ways of thinking.

Avoiding Unhelpful Habits

Break Down Tasks
Many of the struggles students have with productivity in college is getting started on large projects, especially if they’ve never done anything like them before. Finding bite sized tasks to start large projects is an often recommended plan.

Make a Specific Plan
The act of recording a plan to act on something makes us significantly more likely to follow through. This effect is magnified if your commitment is public.

Focus on Your Motivation
With the millions of distractions in a college student’s life, thinking about why you want to achieve something is an often neglected step to ensure working on the stressor gets prioritized.

App Ideation and Iteration

Exploring how these techniques could be translated to a digital tool for students to use in their everyday life.

  • Round 1: The One Hour Iteration

    Applying the techniques I learned about breaking a task into small chunks of time, I set a timer for an hour, and prototyped a step by step flow to dealing with worries.

    one hour
  • Round 2: Explaining the Steps

    Based on learnings from the first flow, the next prototype emphasized guidance, and making it clear to the student what the step they were about to do meant.

    explaining the steps
  • Round 3: Visual Guidance

    Based on learnings from the first flow, the next prototype emphasized guidance, and making it clear to the student what the step they were about to do meant.

    visual guidance
  • Round 4: Emphasizing Inputs

    Generally, the feedback was clear that shorter was better, so I focused on reducing the number of steps to complete. This iteration focused on making user input more distinct from descriptions and questions.

    emphasize inputs
  • Round 5: Unbundling the Design

    At this point, I realized that asking stressed out students to complete a 20 screen flow all at once wasn’t the most effective way to help them deal with stress. This iteration separated the main activities into four different sub-products.

    unbundled

What I Learned from Iteration

Focus on Flows, not Individual Screens
Showing one state of a screen doesn't teach as much as showing a flow from start to finish.

Assume Students Won't Pay Close Attention
Making actions clear and the visuals engaging are crucial to holding a time strapped, stressed out college student's attention.

Be Bite Sized
Students won't spend an extended period of time working on their stress, they need tools that they can use with the spare two minutes they have before class.

Have Personality
Avoiding the cold, informal nature of many college health resources was a must. This tool has to compete with Snapchat, Instagram and all of the other distractions in a student's life.

Visual Design and Illustration

Defining a visual tone that encourages action.

Final Designs

Combining the quirky visual language, fluid animations and bite sized ways to manage stress.

  • checkIn

    Mind Check In

    Taking a minute to mindfully think about your stress and its causes can be challenging for students. The mind check in is a lightweight method for students to build a series of check-ins that tell the story of their stress.

    check in
  • stressors

    Stressor Workout

    After checking in and identifying stressors, the workout section allows students to take steps to act. The mind reframe walks students through identifying and changing unproductive thoughts. The action steps encourage students to identify bite sized tasks to work on large issues as well as making a specfic plan to act.

    check in
  • tips

    Tips

    Tips are bite sized pieces of information to guide students through the common stressful events of college, like pulling an all-nighter.

    content strategy