How to deal with exam stress?
Created by Dr Roma Kumar Updated on Mar 02, 2017
Late night study, revisions, group study – students deal with exam preparation in different ways. And their responses to stress generated during this period leading to the time when the results are declared are different as well. At times, the pressure of exams can lead a child towards contemplating extreme steps. We spoke to Dr Roma Kumar, Clinical Psychologist to find answers about how to deal with stress, and how parents can be more supportive to their children during this phase. Excerpts:
Why do some students take drastic steps? What situations force them to do so?
Growing up/teenage is rather stressful in many ways for the current generation. Children and teenagers go through different kinds of emotional pain, which they are unable to express and have difficulty in resolving their conflicts. Each child is different and his or her ability to cope with difficult situations also differs.
Though there are numerous reasons why students feel stressed, the most common ones according to the research are ‘Academic performance,’ when they fail in their pursuit of professional excellence, self and school related expectations.
A teenager who is contemplating to take extreme steps may be feeling enormously worried, terrified and distraught with negative thoughts. They might feel confined, confused, embarrassed, powerless and hopeless. While such feelings and thoughts surround children’s mind, they get desperate to escape from their unbearable, intolerable feelings that they term as “emotional suffering”. They feel trapped and are unable to deal with their thoughts and look for solutions. The intensity of the emotional pain either distorts or colours their thought process and cripples them in thinking positively. In turn, such thoughts also inhibit them to look for support.
How can parents or friends of the child gauge that something is amiss and they need to seek help?
Children under stress become sad, lonely or depressed due to their inability to deal with conflicting situations. They may be having difficulty in addressing their own disappointments and thus feel overwhelmed. Sometimes children have excessive feelings of guilt or shame due to some life event or abuse, alcohol and / or other substance abuse. They could also withdraw from school and show lack of interest in academics or start getting interested in internet activities.
Quite often depressed teenagers may feel and express worthlessness. If a particular child has been an over achiever, then drop in grades and frustration with schoolwork may get make the child to become vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure.
Another watch out could be when your child consistently complains of aches and pains, which may not have a medical cause. Then you may need to seek help from professionals. They may be low on energy and show a drop in their ability to concentrate. At times, children threaten to run away from home. Attention must be immediately paid when such instances arise. They might have difficulty sleeping. They may be overly irritable or remain in an angry mood. At other times they may get easily frustrated and have angry outbursts with no obvious reason. Children tend to withdraw from socialising and interacting with parents or they may interact with few selected people.
How can parents or friends help the child to overcome these thoughts?
When a parent sees behavioural changes in his teenager, they need to talk to a specialist immediately. Even if the behavioural changes are transitory in nature, they need to be addressed. As a parent, you may sit down with your child and spend time chatting, without nagging and being judgmental. Maybe your child is going through a rough phase, and he needs your support. Encourage him to talk and involve him in various activities and discussions. Initially your child may be hesitant to talk and may show reluctance. Do not lose hope or get angry. Your child may have difficulty opening up for shame or guilt or for the fear of being misunderstood.
As a parent, your instinct will alarm you with his altered behaviours. Children do not like to believe they are depressed for fear of label and increased feelings of inadequacy.
Restrict yourself from questioning your teenager, as it will make him feel shackled. Be persistent, gentle and hold yourself back from blaming or attacking. You need to be friendly in your approach and at the same time give a message that you are with him unconditionally. Avoid giving ultimatums or too much advice. Refrain from such an attitude. Try to be sensitive towards his or her pain and never negate their emotions or pain.
Are there any visible signs that a child is contemplating extreme steps?
Sometimes teenagers talk and joke about taking extreme steps. This may be an attempt to seek attention. Some children may even write dark poetry or stories. They could also give away their favourite possessions. They could be surfing the Internet seeking methods of taking drastic steps. It is also seen that some teenagers meet their dear ones as though it will be their last time and they could speak positively about death. When a teenager is depressed, friends or parents should closely watch him for any thoughts or behaviour. When the extreme steps result in loss of life, then it is often observed that his thoughts or behaviours were not taken very seriously.
As parents how to make the phase during exams less stressful?
Parents these days are excessively desirous to see their child excel in everything. Thus parental expectation puts pressure on the child to aim higher in academic performance or any other activity. So as parents restrain yourself from nagging, lecturing, advising or even threatening with dire consequences, as it will only add on to the anxieties and stress the child further.
Generally it is observed that children get stressed, as they have not been able to manage their time properly and they have huge syllabus to finish. Hence parents need to help their children in managing their time by preparing the time-table which has a balanced mix of study hours and curricular activities like walking, yoga, listening to music.
This will relax your child and help him or her in de-stressing. Parents should also ensure that children are taking balanced diet with loads of liquids to keep them hydrated. Another important thing is to sleep on time. TV watching should be restricted to minimal. One thing parents should stop immediately is to compare the child either with his friends or cousins, as this aggravates the stress and self-defeating thoughts.
Some concerning statistics
The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) conducted a study on the growing number of suicides in India among school and college-going students. The study revealed that about 11 percent of college students and about 7 to 8 percent of high school students have attempted suicide. The survey comprised 1,500 school and college students.
Dr. Roma Kumar is a senior consultant, clinical psychologist, at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, Max Hospital Gurgaon, Saksham Child and Adolescent Guidance Clinic, New Delhi.
| Sep 26, 2016
Thanks for such a helpful knowledge
| Mar 08, 2016
With so much competition, even younger children are being stressed out. Thank you Doctor for sharing this wonderful and insightful post.
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