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Safe Stress

The school year brings on students so much stress. It seems that all negatives will be amplified by stress. Students want to escape from it. However, we finally find the situation become worse. The problem is that we should not think about stress in a negative way. By balancing the stress, it can motivate us rather than against us.

Safe stress is a system that helps students better manage their study stress from effective venting to changing the way they think about stress, also introducing them to professional therapies and counseling chances. Students can get into the system by scanning the QR code in campus restrooms.

Design Thinking

User Research


Sept, 2019-Dec, 2019

· Supported by Design Institute for Health


Janet Dai

Katherine Smithroat

Joshua Morris

My Role

  • ​Mainly contributed to user research, service blueprint and user interface.

  • Leaded concept definition, ideation, and helped in storytelling. 


Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, loneliness, self-injury, and sleeping issues are common mental illnesses seen on college campuses, to name a few.

How might we use the space in the restroom to develop strategies for stress management, create opportunities for student-run therapy, and/or decrease the sense of loneliness and isolation?

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Our users are college students so we focused more on students’ stress problems. We conducted a multi-methodology research effort to better understand how they manage their stress and what’s the connection between stress and the space in the restroom? Also, we tried to look for a better stress therapy for students from the professionals.

why restroom?

Restrooms are the most easily accessible private and independent space in public space, where people can temporarily hide from the pressure of social groups.  It is also a temporary departure from reality, creating the best cover for one's time, allowing one to change the environment and obtain a moment's buffer without interference.  Thus, we try to utilize the space in restrooms for students' mental health issues.

private topic

We realized that most people are not willing to talk about their psychological problems publicly, so we conducted a graffiti wall survey in many restrooms, asking students about their stress and how they deal with it.

They provided us many ways of stress management on the wall. Based on the survey results, we conducted collage and in-depth interviews to get more insightful thoughts.

In order to open our interviewees' heart, we did a collage warm-up before the one-to-one interview. We gave them many images related to restrooms, stress and relaxation and asked them to illustrate their perceptions of the issue. The collage helped us find many complex and unimagined problems. 


Key Takeaways

Students don't like the environment of public restrooms.

   The public restroom:​

  • Dirty

  • Smells bad

  • Can be heard by others

  • Others are waiting outside

  • ...

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Students stress mainly comes from school deadlines.

  • Their stress comes from a lack of structure, especially in the final.

  • They know that their pressure is partly due to their procrastination.

  • This kind of pressure is temporary, but frequent frustrations will make students lose confidence.

Students are afraid of stress.

  • They are afraid of the result is less of expectation.

  • The more afraid they are, the more they want to escape from the stress.

Students do not know much about professional mental counseling.

  • CMHC flyers don't attract students.

  • They don't trust free resources.

professional interview

How to manage stress is always a big problem for human beings. In this area, we need to know more about clinical knowledge, like how doctors help us to deal with stress problems. So we went to the Institute for Mental Health Research(IMHR) and the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC).

Problem #1   I am afraid of stress.

Stress is not a negative thing. It’s actually a fake threat, and our body will naturally respond to a threat, even it's fake. People usually think stress is a bad thing, but it’s not. The most effective way to fight stress is to continue challenging the negative thought to a positive, or even just a different one, and make a habit to do so. 

Problem #2   I feel guilty to have fun when I am under pressure.

Also, it's fine to do some other things when you are under great pressure, but you don't need to feel guilty after that. The guilty of entertainment is also a  negative thought. You can back at that time and think I really deserve that time for myself. Then, you should be ready to take the challenge.

-- Annabelle Divita

   Clinic/Research Coordinator in Anxiety & Health Behaviors Lab

Problem #3   I don't know whether my stress situation is serious?

Prof. Smits, the director of the Anxiety & Stress Clinic at UT, proposed three questions that help students fight anxiety with curiosity rather than panic. It takes just a little self-evaluation and a lot of courage exposing yourself to those fearful but otherwise safe situations.







Problem #4   Where can I look for professional help?

The Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) provides students a wide variety of counseling and self-care resources. What's more, they are FREE. However, most students do not know that they can seek help from here.  In most cases, students will only look for help from CMHC when their mental problems become very serious. CMHC welcomes any student with concerns. The goal of CMHC is to enhance and support students’ well-being, academic and life goals.


Students think that toilets are the only place to release pressure in public, but because of many environment  factors, students do not like public toilets.

Students’ stress mainly comes from study. It tends to become exacerbated with successive negative experience.

Most students think stress is a negative thing and want to escape from it. However, they should learn to challenge those negative thoughts.

Students seldom know they can look for mental help from CMHC, but it is free and helpful.


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We found many opportunity areas based on the research. Then, our team decided to do several rounds of brainstorming. In a limited time, we generated large volumes of ideas. Our team voted for the three most interesting but also feasible ideas for the next round of exploration.



- Make the restroom more suitable for privacy?

- Change the way people think about stress?

- Introduce CMHC resources to more students?

In order to test our ideas, we did the first round of prototyping. They were simple but they were enough to show our design looks and functions to users. We think it’s the quickest and cheapest way to learn (and to fail).

reflect positive thoughts in the mirror

print  your frustrations on toilet paper

a secrete garden behind the restroom

“ I like the idea of using toilet paper. Also, the way to release stress is interesting."

Our users gave us a lot of feedback to our prototype. The idea of FRUSTRATION PRINTER received the most positive comments and was also considered the most feasible and interesting idea.  So we decided to launch a concrete design on this idea.


Initial wireframe and flow

Express Frustrations
Self Awareness
Link to Help

Service blueprint

We realized this product won’t work well in a bad environment and with insufficient backstage support. It actually involves many touch points in the process of interacting with it.This is more like a service system, so we made a service blueprint to understand this product better. We also use the service blueprint to align the design goal of each touch points.

Final outcome

Go to the restroom 

The product will be placed in a separate restroom, not a cubicle.  The environment is simple and clean, and has good sound insulation, making students relaxed from the beginning.

Concept Prototype

See the machine and scan the QR code

The dispenser looks friendly and special, attracting students to interact with it.  

This is also authorized by CMHC, which establishes trust with students.

Write down what is causing your stress

Introducing its function to students and inviting them to freely express their frustrations.

In order to make students feel safe to share their secrets, they will get a notification that what they write down will not be recorded.

Wait for the printed toilet paper

It will take some time to print the toilet paper out. During the waiting process, the page will teach students  some activities to reduce your stress, which are provided by CMHC. 

After that, students can give vent to their feelings by tearing or flushing away the toilet paper.

Self evaluation

The three questions are based on Prof. Smits's research, which help students recognize their true situation and fight against stress. 

Get inspiring words and more help from CMHC

Finally, students will get a random version of encouraging words.

They can save the picture as their home screen in order to remind themselves anytime.

It is also a flyer of CMHC.



It's hard for us, students, to find a truly effective solution for stress management, but, just as the way we think about stress, a little progress is much better than nothing. In fact, we get many good feedbacks from both students and the professionals. 

It's a great idea of creating a venue for students to vent and manage stress.

Love the idea of utilizing the resources of CMHC. Hope get more feedback from students.

It's a good service design. The process is very comprehensive.

Future steps

The project is on its plausible stage, maybe not practical enough but it's also the requirement of our professors, be more speculative. Also, based on our research and users' feedback, we have some more possible suggestions for its future.

Print beforehand

Because students stress comes from several typical areas, so, instead of typing down their frustrations, they can choose the type of their problems and then get toilet paper printed beforehand, which might be less costly.  

AI utilization

With the development of artificial intelligence technology, in the future, the machine can  identify the problem type through the frustrations you type down so that it can provide you with more relevant suggestions. Big data can also help you find solutions from related cases.