Breaks, healthy eating can help with exam stress 0
Help your stressed out student by finding balance and time to relax. (Shutterstock)
Exam stress is boiling over. Students are feeling the heat in the high-octane academic pressure cooker.
“Like deer in the headlights, they are often immobilized by all the stress,” says expert Eli Bay, of The Relaxation Response Institute in Toronto.
It’s an annual ritual that causes panic and anxiety for students, and parents too. In our society, exams are a mark of success.
“A student with high marks is simply better than the rest. Even if a child has raised her ability significantly throughout the year and has worked hard, for too many children and parents the mark is the only thing that counts,” says Kathy Lynn, a parenting expert from B.C.
“Competition for marks is stronger than ever, so high school students are under tremendous pressure to not only pass but to excel. The reality is that many of them can’t,” adds Lynn, of Parentingtoday.ca.
The stress experienced by today’s high school students is unprecedented, says Bay, of Elibay.com. “Advanced education beyond high school is now required for those who are not capable or interested in post-secondary education, and for those wanting to get into good schools or programs, the standards are very high and one bad grade can cause significant grief.”
Even middle school kids are worried about high school performance and university entrance.
Stoking the stress: “Future prospects are uncertain; youth unemployment rates are high; students are fearful about experimenting within an expensive post-secondary option,” adds Carmela Giardini, program coordinator for guidance, cooperative education and Student Success at Toronto Catholic District School Board.
According to Bay, high levels of stress and its manifestations impair concentration and memory and work against one’s best performance.
Experts agree that being chained to networking devices 24/7 further feeds the monster.
Introduce the fourth R to the curriculum — relaxation. In this super rushed society, “it doesn’t serve anyone any good to always be striving and never arriving,” says Michael Eisen, founder of Youthwellnessnetwork.ca.
Pressure to conform to the norms and unhealthy expectations produces a toxic learning environment. On top of that, “they are never even given tools to manage the insane workload that is being put on them at such a young age.”
Adds Eisen: “I find it very disturbing when I hear an 11 or 12 year old talk about how worried they are because they don’t know what they want to do with their life.”
He says we need to quash societal norms and relentless expectations and “allow each student to define and determine success for themselves … and teach them that success does not create happiness, but rather happiness creates success.”
Eisen, 26, admits he was ruled by expectations for many years and, instead of experiencing success and happiness, he experienced depression, sickness and anxiety.
Now he runs Youth Wellness Network, which is based in Toronto and implements wellness programs in schools across North America to boost well being. A healthy body and a healthy mind equal exam success – and overall success.
Stress expert Eli Bay of the Relaxation Response Institute works with organizations across Canada. "Learning ways to control our personal reactions to the stresses of life is a 21st century life skill that belongs in the school curriculum," says Bay. He offers a new free program called Stress Lessons, from the Psychology Foundation of Canada, that teaches stress management to 10 to 12 year olds in Canadian schools.
“It’s about balance,” says Toronto social worker Jeanne Middleton, who along with guidance counsellor Michelle de Braux have initiated Stress Buster workshops at North Toronto Collegiate.
Hosted prior to exams, workshops include yoga, sound therapy and guided meditation, and arm kids with coping strategies to handle the stress before it escalates into distress and anxiety.
Meanwhile, exam stress can be particularly challenging but it is not necessarily all bad, stresses Giardini. “Some of the adrenalin production actually helps to raise performance.”
But managing stress is key. She adds that building resiliency and skills that help students adapt and cope is actually a better approach than eliminating stress altogether.
Defuse stress with tips from relaxation expert Eli Bay:
— Stay positive and don’t catastrophize. Affirm positive thoughts to replace negative ones. Visualize success.
— Take regular short breaks from studying. Go for a walk. Exercise. Listen to music.
— Eat well. Forego the pop and pizza for veggies and fruit.
— Breathe to relax and clear the mind. Breathe in through your nose slowly and deeply into the tummy and fill the lungs from bottom to top; then exhale slowly for five, 10 or more minutes. Do this when feeling drowsy, overloaded, agitated or when trying to fall asleep.
— Do a deep relaxation for at least 20-30 minutes a day during exams; see Elibay.com for a free 25-minute deep relaxation breathing exercise.