How Not to be an ‘Examination Funk’ this season!

The pressure and anxiety of upcoming exams, long hours of study, and anticipation of what the future might hold – in this cut-throat competitive world – affect our well-being.

Anticipatory anxiety can peak before exams resulting in adverse effects on body ‘n mind and thus, a sub-optimal performance. Stress can cause palpitations and tense muscles and reduce the ability to make decisions, act or express ourselves, including organization of thoughts. During exams it can make it difficult to read and understand questions and even to recall terms and concepts.

Emotionally, confidence and self-esteem issues may become more pronounced with fear of failing or overly high expectations.

The state of panic and anxiety can also bring psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, diarrohea, nausea, digestive complaints, sleepless nights, difficulty concentrating and changes in appetite.

Also, prolonged periods of stress may result in depletion of the immune system causing illnesses to linger. You tend to catch all that’s in the air, ironically, when you have the least bit of time to cope up with them. Having expended so much energy coping under the pressure, many report feeling down with lack of energy even with the exams over.

Here are a few recommendations by doctors, psychologists and councillors to sort out these problems concurring around examination and studies. If carefully followed, these tips can turn the exam time into a positive and productive experience for one and all.

Tip #1: Exam stress is completely normal. Feeling a bit anxious or nervous about exams isn’t bad. Don’t consider yourself ‘flaky’ or ‘weak’ for feeling this way. Exams are an important step in your life and you want to give your best.

Each one of us may have a different stress tolerance and we may respond to it differently. For some it can be in manageable doses – a sort of help – to maintain focus and encourage them to study; while others might struggle to manage it effectively.

The key is to put your exams in perspective. They are ‘one’ of the steps in your life’s journey and your future is unlikely to be ‘wrecked’ by not doing as well as you might have hoped. Many people find other routes to their chosen careers despite disappointing exam results and are pretty successful at it.

Tip #2: You’re not alone. Stress has a nasty way of making us feel isolated. Edginess, poor sleep, feeling of dread etc. are just some of the very normal symptoms you may experience as you approach exams. Instead of bottling up your emotions or feelings, share them with a trusted friend, parent or an older sibling. Remember, your elders have been there before and came out the other side. You might be surprised at how helpful and reassuring talking to them can be on issues like exam prep, coping up with nerves and dealing with the result – good or bad.

Tip #3: Take care of yourself. Performing well in your exam requires revision and preparation but filling every waking hour (and the time you should be sleeping) with cramming-in as much as possible, doing past papers and course revisions is not healthy and can actually be counter-productive.

Exams also need you to be in top form physically and mentally. That entails looking after your own wellbeing by sleeping well, eating healthy and exercising. Passing an exam is as much about how you slept, ate and exercised as how many hours of revision you managed.

Controlled breathing is the best antidote to a racing mind. When you feel your mind becoming scrambled, simply stop and breathe slowly and deeply. By slowing down your breathing, you are slowing down your thoughts. This will make you feel more in control. It will also lower down your racing blood pressure and you will think more clearly as a result.

At times, making flow charts and mnemonics can help in memorizing things better.

Tip #4: Be mindful. Don’t spend too much time regretting past and/or worrying about future. Ninety five per cent of what we worry about never happens anyway. Mindfulness, an increasingly popular practice, is about training your mind to come back to the present whenever you notice your mind wandering. Always ask yourself “What am I doing right now?” This helps build up your concentration.

Tip #5: It does not have to be revision 24/7. It is important to strike a balance between revision and having some fun, but do it with strict discipline. Put together a study schedule that includes an hour of revision followed by a 20 minute break watching your favourite TV comedy or listening to relaxing music, going for a short walk or just chitchatting. Feeling refreshed, you can then return to your studying and smash a few more hours of revision (Pomodoro technique).

At the end of a good day of study, do reward yourself for your efforts by catching up with a friend or go to the gym as a little ‘well done’ to yourself.

Nutritional tips for exam students

Healthy diet, together with good sleep and exercise form the three pillars to avoid examination stress.

  1. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
  2. Ensure you choose foods that are high in fibre and give your body a slow steady release of glucose post breakfast — for example wholemeal bread or porridge.
  3. Avoid any kind of weight-loss diets during exam time as many of these are lacking in essential nutrients and can hit concentration.
  4. Take a healthy snack with you to eat either during or before the exam.
  5. Try to eat a good lunch and avoid junk. Fatty foods will leave you feeling full and sluggish.
  6. Don’t overdo it on caffeine (tea, coffee, or litres of Red Bull!). Do have other drinks such as fruit juice, herbal tea and water too. Two litres of water/day is the recommended minimum for those doing exams.

Tips for the parents

A. For a better parent-child confluence

  • Do not compare kids. It can lead to anger or depression in the child.
  • Appreciate whatever the child has achieved unconditionally.
  • Avoid giving false promises. For example “If you come first, you will get a bike”. When that happens, “You are not yet 18 – so you can’t get a license. This time, settle for a bicycle and later we’ll get that bike”. Broken promises hurt the child.
  • Avoid anger chain, for example, father unleashing his anger on the mother (because she does not answer back), and she taking it out on the child (because of the same reason). And the child takes it out on books or studies or younger sibling or hired help at home.
  • Do not force your expectations on the child.
  • Avoid giving the child conflicting messages like mother asking the child to study and father saying – “do not force him”.

B. On how to survive exam fever

As parents, you can do the following to support your children when their nerves fray –

1 Simply be there for them during exam time. By being around physically you are providing an unconditional support.

2 Treat exams like a middle-distance race rather than a sprint. Encourage your child to pace through the exams and not stay up all night revising and cramming. Else he or she would be jaded and by the second or third week would have lost all interest.

3 Get a copy of the exam timetable. When you are doing seven to eight exams and you are under stress, it is easy to get times mixed up.

4 Be patient and tolerant. Emotions can easily be heightened under stress. Even if they bite your head off, at times like this it is perhaps best not to react.

5 Keep secret supplies of things like pens, pencils, rulers, calculators etc. handy.

6 Keep your head. The less stressed you seem, the less anxious they will be.

7 Avoid Post-Mortems. Try to avoid getting involved in analysis of exam papers. The chances are that you won’t have a clue what they are about, and the exam is over anyway. It may be a good idea to suggest that they ring a teacher the following day for reassurance.

 8 Encourage rest and recreation. It is important to take regular breaks while revising. You should encourage your wards to take a break every few hours. A short brisk walk will help them relax and concentrate better. Emphasize the importance of regular sleep.

9 Act as a chauffeur. This is not the time to re-discover your faith in the virtues of public transport. A lift to the exam will avoid distractions.

10 Look after health. If your child has any health issues, take necessary precautions. Hay fever sufferers should be alert to conditions that cause their symptoms to flare up. Asthmatics should have an inhaler at the ready.

Homoeopathic support during exams

Along with a healthy diet and adequate rest, Homoeopathy offers a gentle yet powerful support to those experiencing symptoms of exam related stress.  Whether you are looking for help to calm down your nerves on the D-day, keep yourself in good health during the examination period, or wish to tackle problems of concentration, motivation or lack of energy; Homoeopathy looks at your specific needs and prescribes uniquely and specifically for you. Here are a few important remedies that help you cope up well during the exams –

Aconite for acute anxiety, agitation and restlessness just before an exam.

Argentum Nitricum kids just dread exams and the anxiety can bring on diarrohea and trembling beforehand. Any liquids drank seem to pass straight through them and there may be vomiting too.  They will appear hurried and fidgety and may crave sugary foods which aggravates. Thinking of a headless chicken behaviour might sum up Arg-N!

Gelsemium if you feel “paralyzed or shut down by fear” and experience weakness, trembling, stuttering, intense weariness and mental dullness. The cease is felt both physically and emotionally and the mind may go blank. Thinking of an ostrich with the head in sand might sum up Gels!  

Lycopodium while lacking self-confidence and courage may well be able to conceal his anxiety a little better. However the anxiety goes straight to his stomach causing digestive troubles, bloating and lots of wind!  Despite the nerves they usually do well once starting the exam.

Aethusa for acute anxiety and confusion consequent upon overtaxation of mind. Upsets the stomach with extreme vomiting and the same non retention is experienced in mind.

Kali Phos acts as a nerve nutrient for mental and physical despair from excitement, overwork or worry. It’s an excellent nerve tonic to use regularly during times of stress such as exams and performance. Include other remedies as indicated.

Stress is inevitable. Rather than taking it as exclusively negative, be determined to use it to your advantage. It can actually help you perform better.

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