EXAM SEASON SPECIAL:Taming the ‘killer’ stress

In the past few years, psychological as well physiological disorders linked to increased Mental Stress levels in the run up (preparation) to exams and during the  exam periods, has emerged as one of the biggest health problems among school going students especially teenagers. Till the time our education system which is more of an examination system, makes systemic corrections, we need to learn to cope with exam stress. Curriculum Magazine  brings you important lessons to cope with the stress as the exam season commences

 

simple, healthy routines make the grade

We would not like to cite or talk about the ugly and unfortunate toll of suicide deaths taken on young people every year due to excessive stress of exams, made worse by parental expectation and comparison. Every time, after such incidents, usually after results are declared, there is news and analysis for a few days and the issue is forgotten till the next cycle. We as parents, teachers, schools, government or a society never realize that this is actually a public health issue and needs our attention. While we did recognize importance of physical education and raised a cadre of physical education teachers, we have miserably failed to deploy trained human resource when it comes to emotional health of students.
It is so because we as society don’t think about children. According to Dr. Shobhana Mittal, consultant psychiatrist at the Delhi-based Cosmos Institute of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences (CIMBS), while adults have the ability to cope with emotional issues, the children particularly the teenagers between 12-17 years don’t. “It is the stage of life while emotional issues take individual by surprise, hormonal issues come up and they don’t know where to discuss or consult,” she adds. While these teens try to figure out and cope with the bodily biological changes much like a voyage, the stress of doing well in studies and co-curricular activities makes the situation more demanding. DSCN1728
“In clinics we have seen nearly a five-fold increase in number of children reporting with anxiety related disorders. In fact, of late, dissociative disorders have also become common where the integrated sensory mechanism of body breaks down due to stress and sub-conscious conflicts. In such cases Pseudo-seizures and fainting can occur. In teenagers there is a curiosity of trying new things and self-medication. This can result in smoking, alcohol consumption and even use of substances like cannabis.  So the symptoms need to be recognized early to avoid the ugly situation that may arise as a result of progressive psychological disorders,” says Dr Mittal.
With Internet and the social media addiction becoming almost commonplace where the profile picture of a face-book account is seen as an identity statement by teens, the challenge of providing an institutional support system to cope with emotional issues has become huge. At a recent conclave of educators in Delhi, Syed Asif Ibrahim, Special Envoy to the PM on Internal Security & Counter Terrorism, provided a graphic perspective of how Internet is being used to radicalize children. “Mind of children is very inquisitive and when subjected to conditional and narrow thinking in the virtual world, they try to develop values and beliefs accordingly. A sense of belonging and propagation of shared values can deter them and this has to be done by schools and educators,” he said.
How children learn is not an easy question to answer. As per Dr Mark Treadwell, internationally acclaimed speaker on educator training from New Zealand who conducted a workshop of school principals in Gurgaon early this month, identity is very important for a learner. “They do self-talking and if they identify with the subject, they learn. If they are not in driver seat, they will be reluctant passengers in the learning process who need not take the whole journey,” he illustrated.
All these arguments and logic point to a policy and disruptive response to the way education is imparted in classrooms. Traumatic as these might be, examinations are still the golden gateways of measuring learning outcomes and hence means of future success primarily for admissions to a particular steam, good course program or an institution for further studies. So, there is premium on cracking examinations and securing high scores.  Parents and schools alike want this.  Thus, a culture has taken deep roots in the society where cracking an exam with high scores has become an obsession with scant regard for proportionate individual interest, health, emotional as well intelligence quotient or teaching/learning apparatus. That is how Kotas are thriving in this country and coaching industry is becoming a ‘black hole’ for good secondary education in India. That is not all. Distractions and smart (devices) phones used for gaming, chatting etc are eating up a lot of productive time. Managing time and balancing priorities for teenagers is becoming increasingly difficult. Information explosion is still exploding and technology is rapidly automating things.
At the same time, without waiting for regulators, politicians or policy makers to make a change, we as parents, teachers or even as students can manage the stress that our present examination system induces. Balancing act is a challenge for even the best minds. So, we have to look for solutions beyond the obvious.
bindraDelhi-based Vivek Bindra, an MBA turned monk and now a motivational speaker cum corporate trainer and founder of Global ACT, says Bhagvat Gita has the answers.  “For the being who has conquered the mind; that being’s mind is the best of friends; but for one whose mind is uncontrolled, that very mind acts as the worst of enemies,” is one of the verses he cites while championing conditioning of the sub-conscious for a better and quality life. “Auto suggestion is conditioning that helps in concentration and today concentration is what has gone amiss from students,” he adds.
According to him, irrespective of the religion, Bhagvat Gita is the irrefutable reference material for conditioning mental state and coping with emotional issues. The teachings of Gita infused will power into the most skilled warrior of his time, Arjuna, to use that skill.  “Bhagvat Gita is a timeless precious resource of learning a value system that teaches discipline, positive attitude, mind control, leadership, morality to mind and builds character. This value system is the key to happiness that people rather seek by going to intoxications of various kinds. So, I would say students should take time to understand and learn important life skills from Bhagvat Gita.”
While mind control is necessary for concentration and mental development, keeping body healthy is equally important. According to doctors we have to respect natural cycles of the body and keep regular routines as a golden rule to harmonize our working. Syed Sultan Ahmed, founder-director of Bangalore-based EdcuMedia India Pvt Ltd, who has spent last 20 years in children-centric activity-based learning including school cinema says, sleeping 6-8 hours, drinking lots of water and physical exercise should be a rule even during exams for children. Dr. Shobhana Mittal recommends promotion of positive health in families more so during intense studies and exams. “Balanced diets, adequate light in study places, proper ventilation and small breaks after every 40-50 minutes of learning session besides good sleep and physical exercises will help de-stress the body, “she adds.
So, managing stress at individual student and family levels comes with a few simple steps. Make a goal statement to your sub-conscious mind and keep working around it. It will foster a positive attitude and prioritize your attention and memory towards that activity. You will feel good and happy while preparing for exams. Have good food, sleep and also do physical exercises. Keep away from gaming during exams. And experts are united that morning time is the most appropriate and productive time to study and during this time learning goes to long term memory.
For the family, it is necessary to keep expectation from the children realistic and also know strengths of the child. According to Mitali Srivastava – Sr. Clinical Psychologist, rather than marks they should help him or her prepare for life. “It is more important because of the epidemic proportion that psychological disorders in teenagers ranging from depression and anxiety to smoking, and even substance abuse are being increasingly reported by healthcare workers,” she adds.
Parenting is a challenge in current technology era but their role as teacher, mentor, guide, ‘policeman’ and friend is all the way important to shape a child into a good human being and succeed in life. And to children believe in yourself and manage your time. Start study cycle early so that you have enough time to revise and relax.

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