Culture, Education

Exam stress, anxiety, depression & how to deal with it

ES2The exam alarm clock is on a countdown now. With the coming of January, the alteration to the date pattern (from 2016 to 2017) and the announcement of the boards exam schedule (for the ICSE as well as the CBSE board), the spadework and the preparation has gotten bigger and intense and likewise, the self-assessment and the self-evaluation has too. All of it, ultimately leading to the inception of stress, anxiety and in some cases depression as well, for both the students and parents.
Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life and preparing for them can make you feel stressed or anxious in any way. According to a study done in England in the year 2014 on exam stress, out of 1300 students questioned 96% said that they had been stressed in some way, shape or form while 64% admitted to be feeling completely unsupported.
Being a student is not at all easy right now. The exam system is relentless, the tuition fees are scary, the cut-offs for colleges and universities are sky-high and it doesn’t help with the social media fuelling the culture of constant comparison with each and every one around. No wonder the students are stressed!
In day-to-day talking with friends or family, we tend to speak of depression, stress and anxiety as if they are interchangeable or describing the same thing. However, this is not the case. Part of the reason for going to see a psychologist, is to sort out whether any of these descriptions fit your experience.
Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge. The body reacts physically as if it were under an attack pushing it into a fight or flight mode releasing a set of hormones and chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol which prepare the body for a fight which is great you’re about to get hit by a sumo wrestler, not so great if it also involves lessening of brain function which affects the ability to think straight, just not what you need before the exams.
The extended stay of the hormone causes depression, a rise in the blood pressure and other negative changes and effects.
Depression refers to a state where you feel down most of the time, usually called the ‘low mood’, and you’ve also lost interest in things and activities you usually tend to enjoy. You may also feel guilty, demotivated, generally tend to withdraw from others and have changes in your sleep-patterns and appetite. Depression during exams is a familiar thing.
One of the other negative effects of the hormone’s staying put is anxiety. Anxiety, so to speak, is a sense of fear or dread that something terrible is bound to happen, like you being under-prepared on the day of exam or maybe failing in it. With anxiety, fear overcomes all emotions accompanied by worry and apprehension, making a person a recluse and a bagful of jitters.
There are several ways and tips to keep a check and ease the exam stress that one may feel during or before it.
esMUSIC – Music as always has been a great source of relaxation and repose, but it has been scientifically proven that not only it helps in increasing the concentration but also with decreasing of stress. A study in Russia, found that when children listened to an hour of classical music for 6 months, there brain showed changes that indicated a greater level of relaxation and this happened even if they were not really paying attention to the music. So a little bit of classical music could help you too, to relax and to de-stress yourself, without even thinking about it.
PLANTS – The presence of plants reduces stress. They change our perception of the environment to be more attractive and comfortable to us. Part of the reason for indoor plants in offices and schools is to increase the productivity as they help us reduce and overlook the stress from the demanding projects and assignments. On the other hand, NASA too found that plants improve the air quality boosting our health, which is a good thing overall.
SLEEP RITUAL – If you’re feeling stressed or anxious then getting to bed early is easier said than done. However, you do want a 6 hour sleep at the least and a sleep ritual helps with that. After a good sleep you wake up feeling well rested and less anxious because sleep helps you process all of the information you have been studying. During the studying try going to bed and waking up same time, seven days a week. This will keep you from jet-lagging yourself on the weekends. Also, put a bedtime routine in place, maybe a bath or a book. Do not occupy yourself with phone or laptops before sleeping as the blue light will keep you up, and avoid caffeine 4 hours before bed.
DIET – Existing on a diet of caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks is really common for a stressed out student. He/She is trying to cram in information and just stay wake. However, these foods only make you more jittery, more anxious and will lead to slumps in energy and in concentration. Research show that students who rely on a better nutritional diet perform better than who don’t so you have to fuel your mind and body with the right food. Slow releasing carbohydrates and fibre rich fruits and vegetables are going to keep your blood sugar levels stable and healthy fats like Omega-3 are really good for brain health and concentration. Also, water, lots and lots of water because even a mild form of dehydration can keep you feeling sleepy and not very alert.
CHEWING GUM – No one really knows why, but studies show that chewing gum will help you to increase your test scores because it boosts up focus and concentration which is great if you’re feeling destructed and anxious and apparently chewing gum is a better study aid than caffeine.
EXERCISE/SHORT WALK – Majority of us, feel the need to study as much as we can and keep our pens and ourself poised for action. However, it is not so. Exercising for a bit or even taking a short walk can help you to boost up your memory and brain power.
USE MOBILE APPS – There are tons and tons of apps available on the internet to improve the quality of life. Whether you want to get organised, improve your mental arithmetic or work on your language skills, there is an app available for that. Use them to boost up your skills and speed.
All of these, however, are the physical ideas that may help you to manage the stress before the exams but it all comes down to your nerves and the state of mind. In order to out-do the stress and anxiety on the day of exam or even before it you have to prime your mind. Think of your mind, as a computer. Make sure your software is working for you and leading you in the right direction. Be aware of your thoughts, if you are overly anxious or constantly berating your efforts, this will impact on your belief in your abilities which directly impacts your effectiveness and performance. It’s true what they say, ‘garbage in, garbage out’. What you focus on expands, so make sure you are focussing on your positive strengths, talents and accomplishments. Learn from past mistakes or failures, but do not dwell on them.
TALKING – Remember, it is normal to feel a certain amount of stress this time of the year. However, it is important to keep it in check. Unchecked stress can lead to isolation, feelings of loneliness, health problems, paranoia and in the extreme, suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing dark thoughts, talk to someone immediately: your teacher, parent, friend or counsellor. Don’t bottle it up.
Of course, when all else fails, just take a deep breath and remember that this will not be it. Your life will not end with this. Do not let the mighty term ‘boards’ affect you or your performance, it is just another exam and as long as you’re prepared and are trying your best for it, you’ll be fine. Stay focused and know that stress however big it is, is manageable.
February 24, 2017

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Shubham Joshi


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