Student stress is something that accompanies many adolescents from all walks of life. In 2018, a study published in the Society for Research in Child Development journal suggested that bad grades triggered higher cortisol levels in high school students. Dubbed the stress hormone, cortisol has been known to compromise the immune system and memory performance.
Now, imagine adding COVID-19 stress to the mix. A 2021 study was conducted by researchers from University Malaya on 137 secondary school students in Malaysia who had to delay their exams because of the pandemic. It showed that 37.6% had extreme anxiety; 28.8% had moderate anxiety; and 20% had mild anxiety.
Another study by the same researchers from University Malaya focused on university students who had to transition to e-learning exhibited a similar result. 56% of participants who perceived COVID-19 negatively experienced stress, 51.3% anxiety and 29.4% depression.
If the way you learn has been affected by the pandemic or if you know someone who is in trouble, there are some things that can help with mental wellbeing.
Read more to find out eight techniques to eliminate student stress.
How to Spot Student Stress
Although stress can manifest differently in each person, symptoms are quite universal in general. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), some common symptoms of stress in children of all ages include:
- Changes in eating and sleeping behaviours
- Chest tightness
- Dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness and headache
- General aches
- Poor concentration
- Being increasingly fearful
Eight Tips to Manage Student Stress
Here are eight ways students can manage their stress:
Research on meditation, particularly mindfulness-based therapies, has demonstrated efficacy in reducing anxiety and depression. Rooted in Buddhism, this form of meditation is divided into two components: attention and acceptance. Mindfulness meditation requires you to pay attention to your breath, thoughts and feelings. Whether the thoughts and feelings are good or bad, you must accept them without judgment before finally letting them go.
When you wake up in the morning, sit up or lie comfortably on your bed, and start your day by meditating. Close your eyes and concentrate only on your breathing as you inhale and exhale. Do this for a few minutes until you feel relaxed.
2. Feed your brain well
A nutritious breakfast will get you ready to face the rest of the day. Avoid greasy meals that can mess with your digestion. Choose foods with protein, calcium and omega-3 that will energise your brain.
Protein promotes the development of the brain while making sure the neurons work well at the same time. You can find it in white meat, soybeans and eggs. Likewise, calcium regulates several neuronal functions and long-term memory-making processes. Calcium is available in milk and other dairy products.
Twenty percent of the brain’s dry weight consists of good fats like omega-3. Supplements or foods containing the substance, such as walnuts and salmon, are very beneficial for the brain. A study has also found that omega-3 can improve brain disorders like depression and anxiety. Alternatively, you can try supplements made from ginkgo biloba, which is believed to reduce anxiety disorders.
3. Take care of your heart
Another organ that needs to be nourished apart from the brain is your heart. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), emotional imbalances like anxiety are caused by a weak Heart. TCM recommends consuming biota seeds or undergoing acupuncture treatments to replenish the Heart and enhance its function.
4. Organise your space and thoughts
An organised space is one of the contributing factors to mental wellness. A 2009 study by researchers from University of California-Los Angeles found that mothers with more organised homes had lower cortisol levels than those surrounded by clutter. So, clean up your desk or study area to be free of stress!
Much like your physical space, your mental thoughts need to stay organised. Instead of making one long-term study goal, divide them into small, more realistic ones that you can achieve gradually. Doing this will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses while giving you more motivation to reach every goal.
5. Give yourself a break
There’s a reason why school recess exists. Research has shown that recess plays a huge role in developing a child’s emotions as well as their creativity and social behaviour. Taking a break from studying is vital for mental health. Furthermore, a break will also protect you from digital eye strain.
6. Do some exercise
Like taking breaks, being physically active provides a timeout from stressful factors. Moreover, multiple studies have proven that exercise affects the chemicals in the brain that control your moods, like dopamine and serotonin.
TCM too, highlights the importance of exercise as a stress relief. It believes that stress can disturb the flow of qi in your body, leading to several illnesses. Working out can help minimise the effects of stress by rejuvenating qi and blood circulation.
7. Go to bed on time
Poor sleep has been linked to both mental and physical dysfunction. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night. But more than just the duration, quality sleep also constitutes timing. From TCM’s point of view, the ideal bedtime is between 11pm to 5am, according to the meridian clock.
8. Reduce internal Heat
Eating and sleeping well are important, but sometimes, students sacrifice healthy meals and rest for good grades. According to TCM, bad eating and sleeping habits can cause Liver Qi Stagnation, resulting in internal Heat or Fire (yang) in the body.
To counter the impacts of internal Heat, TCM recommends cooling herbs, like Foxglove root (sheng di, 生地), asparagus root (tian dong, 天冬) and Chinese magnolia vine fruit (wu wei zi, 五味子).
Student stress may be hard to avoid, but it can be managed. Through these eight steps, you can feel more at peace as you study your way toward achieving your goals.
This is an adaptation of an article, “10 Stress-Busting Techniques for Exam Success”, which first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website.
- Society for Research in Child Development. 2018. An Entity Theory of Intelligence Predicts Higher Cortisol Levels When High School Grades Are Declining [Accessed 16 April 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2015. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function [Accessed 16 April 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2011. Effects of stress hormones on the brain and cognition: Evidence from normal to pathological aging [Accessed 16 April 2022]
- Platform: A Journal of Management and Humanities. 2021. PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC TOWARDS MALAYSIA’S SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS [Accessed 16 April 2022]
- Sage Journals. 2021. Perception towards E-learning and COVID-19 on the mental health status of university students in Malaysia [Accessed 16 April 2022]
- UNICEF. 2022. How to reduce stress and support student well-being during COVID-19 [Accessed 16 April 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression [Accessed 17 April 2022]
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2017. Brain Basics: Genes At Work In The Brain [Accessed 17 April 2022]
- Pubmed. 1995. Role of calcium in brain aging [Accessed 17 April 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2020. The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders [Accessed 17 April 2022]
- Sage Journals. 2009. No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol [Accessed 17 April 2022]
- Wiley Online Library. 2010. The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools [Accessed 17 April 2022]
- ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 2013. STRESS RELIEF: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management [Accessed 17 April 2022]
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