For parents, juggling household responsibilities and work commitments may become even more stressful during the exam period. The added responsibility of tutoring our children, making sure that they are catching up on every last bit of the curriculum while keeping track of their mental health may take its toll on our health.
Some of us parents may be familiar with decreased appetite, headaches, poor concentration, rapid heartbeat or insomnia when the exam period strikes. While these effects of stress are self-contained, other signs of stress such as crankiness, irritability and angry outbursts may affect people around us.
Hence, being stressed about our children’s exams may be counterproductive in creating a conducive environment for our children. After all, no child would want to be the target of a screaming session while they are busy battling trigonometry right?
This exam period, we can learn how to better manage our stress with 10 tips:
Exercising can boost your mood by releasing endorphins, a chemical in your brain that reduces the perception of pain and triggers a positive feeling. Besides, engaging the body in workouts distracts you from stressful situations and helps to lower stress hormone levels. An example of a stress hormone is cortisol, which increases tension and anxiety when produced by the body. Hence, taking some time out to exercise can help to reduce stress. Why not also kill two birds with one stone – while you exercise with your family to uplift your mood, also take this opportunity to bond over working out!
Breathe in and out deeply
Some stress relief techniques can help the body to resist its reaction to stress. One common effective technique is to focus on taking slow deep breaths (quick breathing can cause hyperventilation, which can lead to a full-blown panic attack). Focusing on something else overcomes the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress and distracts you from negative thoughts. Besides, taking in more oxygen also helps you to reduce tension, think better and work faster. Ideally, breathe in and out deeply for 10 minutes to get the best result.
Limit caffeine intake
A common mistake among people who are pressed for time is that they often resort to caffeine to stay awake to accomplish more within a day. Caffeine prevents adenosine absorption, a chemical that causes brain activity and heart rate to slow down. Unfortunately, the reality is that caffeine keeps us alert for only a short period of time and in fact enhances the insomnia that stressed individuals suffer. Caffeine can also increase the levels of cortisol, which can cause weight gain and moodiness.
Another mistake is to turn to alcohol to unwind during stressful and anxious periods. Alcohol is able to change the levels of serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters, which are chemicals produced by the brain to affect our mood. Although alcohol may initially help you to relax and become happier when your blood alcohol content rises, you begin to feel more anxious and stressed once the alcohol content level begins to fall and normalise. At the end of the day, not only is alcohol ineffective in alleviating stress, it is counterproductive as it increases stress levels.
Take a break from your screen
Long periods of constant computer or phone usage have long been identified as reasons for stress, lost sleep and depression in many medical studies. Hence, remember to take breaks often during your computer usage. As a guide, computer operators should have a 15 minute break for every 2 hours of computer work, and a break every hour if they perform intensive keyboard work. You should also shut it down at least 1 hour before you sleep. Of course, being constantly connected also means that your emails, texts and calls from work may keep coming in and pile on more stress.
Make time for yourself
It may sound like an impossible feat when there is already not enough time for anything. However, sometimes it may be good to cut ourselves some slack, take a day trip somewhere, engage in retail therapy or watch a soccer game alone. For those who are less willing to go on leave, a long, nice and warm bath may do the trick too. Making time for ourselves gives us a breather, loosens us up and helps us to sleep better at night.
Have fun once in a while
All work and no play makes our children dull, and the same goes for us. During the exam period, make it a point to do something fun together at least once a fortnight. It could be a good meal out, a day at the amusement park or activities as simple as having pizza and Monopoly night. Who knows, you could even be inspired for work when your mind is somewhere else for once! Besides, spending leisure time with the children can take some exam stress off them as well.
Form a support group
Forming a support group may sound dramatic but it may prove useful to have mental support. For example, consider forming a group chat with friends who are in the same phase of life as you or with parents of your child’s friends. It is reassuring to know that you are not alone struggling to have work-life-exam balance. Keeping tabs on your child’s mental wellness may also be easier with some 3rd party help!
Have a banana
Bananas are rich in potassium, which helps to control blood pressure. Hence, consuming a banana in times of stress can help to regulate and maintain blood pressure within its acceptable range. This means that complications such as high blood pressure or heart attacks are less likely to develop. Additionally, bananas are known to be effective in increasing energy and expediting recovery. This makes bananas a healthy and convenient breakfast or snack when you are stressed and pressed for time.
Understand that grades are not everything
At one glance, it may seem foolish to claim that grades cannot buy success. Particularly in the Asian context, some may claim that parents are slave drivers who believe that ‘all you got to do is to study harder’. Other parents may advocate that children have different strengths and for some of them, studying isn’t one of them. Well, the truth is, it doesn’t matter which school of thought is right. When we look at the broader picture, we desire for our children to succeed academically so that they can lead a comfortable and happy life in the long run.
While a good amount of stress may propel our children to study harder, an unhealthy amount of stress may drive them up the wall, and that’s hardly going to make them happy. The truth is that whenever we nag about how important exams are or get stressed out, our children will likely feel the pressure. This exam period, let’s learn how to keep our stress level down and keep the whole family sane.