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Parents need to relax, not add to stress

Radhika*, 15, complained of severe headache, followed by bouts of unconsciousness when she came to a counsellor over a week back. The anxiety attacks were sudden. For the counsellor, it was not difficult to answer why the teenager was suffering from this: the exams were only two weeks now.

“While counselling, I realised she was overworking with her exams around. The frequency of attacks had also increased as the exam came closer. The girl was attending two tuitions right after coming back from school. Once she returned from the tuitions, she was again sitting down to study. The meals were irregular and she was hardly sleeping. She was not taking any breaks either. Such a schedule does not help students before exams,” says Dr Arti Anand , clinical psychologist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

As the board exams near, students have the tendency to study round the clock, doing away with breaks and having irregular sleep cycles. This leads to severe anxiety disorder, headaches, sleep disturbance, depression and unconsciousness. In several cases, children suffer from stomach ache, neck and shoulder pain and breathing problems too. Lack of concentration is one of the most widely reported symptoms before exams.

“The symptoms can be varied. The somatic symptoms before exams are respiratory problems like heavy breathing, palpitation, sweating, stomach ache. There are primarily two types of worry – one while preparing for the exams and the other during the exam. Students constantly worry if they will be able to reproduce what they have studied and some get panicky while answering questions,” says Dr Neelam Kumar Bohra, senior consultant, psychiatry, Holy Family Hospital.

Students often leave preparations till the last minute, point out psychiatrists. There is a lack of structured counselling in schools. Students find it difficult to cope with pressure from parents or to keep up with peers. “Stress management is required from early stage. Even though there are counsellors in every schools, it should be more structured and students should be given classes on stress management. A proper timetable well ahead of the exams and tips like curtailing time spent on cell phones and the internet will help students cope with the pressure. It is also required for them to take short breaks in between studies,” says Dr Bohra.

Unrealistic expectations      
Counsellors say the problem of students suffering from severe anxiety starts from having ‘unrealistic expectations’ from themselves. Parents should also be counselled in some cases in which they burden children with achieving goals which they have not been able to achieve themselves. Unrealistic expectations often lead to depression and ‘sinking feeling’ among youngsters.

“It is important that students appearing for their board exams have realistic expectations. Some set the standard so high that when unable to meet these expectations, they feel stressed. Parents should constantly motivate children and encourage them to think positively,” says Dr Anand.

Parents should keep reassuring children that their love for them is independent of the marks they score, say counsellors.

“Youngsters do not want to lose out on love from their parents. They often link this to their performance in exams. So they constantly aim to move towards perfection. In cases where they do not meet their expectations, students suffer from self-doubt, depression and loneliness,” says Dr O C Kashyap, senior consultant, psychiatry, PSRI Hospital.

“Keep telling your children that you love them unconditionally and the marks they score in exams have nothing to do with it,” he adds.

Dr Samir Parikh, Director of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, says the problems that students complain of before examinations are mostly the same over the years.

“The problems come down to lack of concentration, forgetfulness, blackout, pressure from parents and not being allowed to take breaks.”

“We have launched a helpline which is taking calls from across the nation. The pattern of problems is the same across places,” he adds.

Counsellors say students should not compromise on sleep in order to prepare for the exams. This, in turn, affects the output in exams. “Students must get at least seven to eight hours of sleep before exams. Less sleep leaves students confused and focus becomes less. Recalling answers in the exam hall may get affected due to less sleep,” says Dr Bohra.

Unnecessary intake of beverages like tea and coffee should also be avoided. Instead, students should maintain a healthy diet and drink adequate water to keep themselves well hydrated.

Counsellors also advise engaging in physical activities. Instead of engaging in social networking sites, students should meet their friends in person. “Students should take breaks, engage in a little reading and relax,” says Dr Parikh.

“We also encourage children to go out and play games so that they are distracted from their anxiety for some time,” says Dr Kashyap.

Youngsters should also not missing out on maintaining high hygiene levels during this phase. “There is a tendency for students to skip taking baths, changing their bed sheets regularly and not maintaining high hygiene level before exams. One has to be bodily comfortable in order to combat stress,” says Dr Bohra.

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