Exam Stress: Let the whistle blow

Exam Stress: Let the whistle blow.

“I swear on the God of Books, next time I will start a month prior to exam dates” – all of us at some point in life. We have all faced situations where we sit with our books two nights before exams and suddenly become masters in future management of our plans- next exam I will make myself a time table and a routine to stick by or I will party less next semester or I will sit in the first bench and make notes. And this stress isn’t just felt by the procrastinators but also by the top three ranked students in class who feel the pressure of performing.

So what is exam stress?

Well, it can mean pressure to get grade A or the need to just pass. Not every student goes through the same stress as the other. Therefore having a common book for stress management for all isn’t the right solution. Even though the reasons could differ, what one feels under stress can be pooled under the same umbrella. It is a process of constant pressure which turns in worry and then leads to a person feeling anxious and nervous. Some of the common things we feel under exam stress are- I can’t do this anymore, I will let our parents down, I will be left unemployed, my future depends on my grades etc.

This exam pressure can have repercussions which can range from dropping out of college to suicide. Every hour, one student commits suicide in India, according to 2015 data (the latest available) from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In 2015, the number of student suicides stood at 8,934. In the five years leading to 2015, 39,775 students killed themselves. The number of attempted suicides, many unreported, is likely to be much higher. India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged 15 to 29, according to a 2012 Lancet report. Statistics show that student suicides are becoming increasingly common in Kota, Rajasthan, considered the capital of India’s shadow education system. Its many commercial coaching centres, that guarantee success in professional entrance exams, pressure students into striving for unrealistic goals. In a video message recovered after his death last year, Aman Kumar Gupta, a student from Bihar, apologized to his parents for not being able to live up to their expectations. “Everyone at the coaching institute and my friends helped me but I am not been able to do it right,” he said in the 11.14 minute long video clip.

Even outside Kota, the alarm bells have been ringing for years now. Students from regions as diverse as Phagwara, Udupi, Noida, and Mumbai have all taken their lives within these first five months of 2017, due to study-related stress and burden of family expectations. In the most recent case, 24-year-old management student Arjun Bhardwaj, streamed his suicide as a ‘live tutorial’ on Facebook before jumping to his death from a Mumbai hotel. The student’s father reportedly told the police that his son was depressed “due to repeated failure in exams”.
Counsellors have revealed that young people find it difficult to cope with failure in examinations and careers and neither families nor other social institutions offer adequate support or solace for the same. Professional help is difficult to find because India endures an 87% shortage of mental-health professionals. The situation is exacerbated by low public spending on mental health.

Where is the stress budding from?

Inadequate or last minute preparation: This is by far the most common and  relative reason that causes exam pressure in a student. If one is under prepared, the ambiguity of the results would cause stress. If any part of the study material is left uncovered, feelings of anxiety is natural. Further, last minute studying also enhances this anxiety factor.

Parental pressure: Often we come across children feeling bogged down due to the pressure of expectations from their immediate family members. There is an unfortunate tendency in some parents to see their children do what they could not. The child is made to understand that they are required to attain good grades or are compared with others. This enhances the exam stress.

Self induced pressure: This refers to the pressure that gets built up in the minds of the child due to their expectations. There is a belief that grows in the minds of the children that they are required to perform well consistently in order to be judged as a good student. This is something that is imbibed in the child since their early childhood. So as the child grows up and prepares for the exams, the kid is under a constant pressure that he needs to maintain his grades and be at his very best at all the exams. Very often they imagine an adverse reaction from their parents or ‘fall of grace’ in the eyes of their teachers and peers and bog himself down with the pressure to perform.

Growing competition: with the sky rocketing cut offs in colleges, it has been a need for a child to perform in order to get entry in a good college. The highest percentage in the past year in the board exams was one less that 100- YES 99%. With this kind of competition, a student is ought to take stress to perform well and stand somewhere in the crowd.

Sole bread earner: not everybody is on the same page when it comes to financial holdings. Students who work part time and are also studying simultaneously fall prey to this stress.

How do we let the whistle blow?

As mentioned before, there cannot be one size that fits all in this situation. The following are techniques one can adopt as per their cause for stress and customize according to their abilities and needs.
Firstly, understand that exams are not the only deciding factor of where one will make or break their future. But also not to make this as an excuse to not give it any importance- not everyone is Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs. Exams are a part of education, but there is no need for one to kill themselves over it.
One of the time management technique making the rounds is the Pomodoro technique where one works in blocks of time, typically 25 minutes long, followed by a 5 minute break. Each Pomodoro session should demand our full attention on one task and every break requires us to step away from your work to rest. The results improve productivity by managing distractions and taking regular breaks.

This is a long shot, but devoting one hour everyday for classroom revisions helps one fear less of the pile of notes they see at the end of the year. Anybody would feel overwhelmed by 10 subjects thrown at you at the end of the semester as compared to 1 chapter read every day.
For parents, stop pushing your unfulfilled dreams onto your child. Understand that medical and engineering aren’t the only two fields in the world. First comprehend your child’s aptitude and then be their support in any situation they need you in. Waking up early with them or staying up late gives the child a lot of moral support.

For students, along with books, have a good diet and adopt some form of exercise for mental stimulation. Meditation, yoga, jogging or even something simple as skipping in the morning. Physical stimulation is said to increase hormones which helps one grasp and retain better.
Students suffer from mental disorders relating to fear of examination. The fear factor is the reason why students suffer from anxiety, depression, and the following consequences. India urgently needs to start prioritising mental health goes without saying: Currently, only 0.06% of our national health budget is dedicated to it, along there is 87% nationwide shortage in mental-health professionals. On ground, this means that a majority of schools, universities, and institutions lack trained staff for counselling students caught on the brink of despair. Of late, the unsettling frequency of suicides has also drawn the attention of administrators and celebrities alike, while even reputed universities are talking of changing their curriculum.

The National Curriculum Framework (NCF), 2005 recommended measures like reduction of curriculum load, emphasis on comprehension and application of knowledge, focus on continuous and comprehensive evaluation, making examinations more flexible, provision of guidance and counselling in schools, and making learning child-centric.

Yashoda Bopanna, director of Karnataka Secondary Education Board (KSEEB), said the District Institute for Educational Training (DIET) has been holding training sessions for teachers to teach stress management to students. Also, every year before the SSLC exams, KSEEB opens its helpline where six counsellors are available to help students, she said.
Such forums and initiatives is the need of the hour. The aim is to firstly eliminate the cause of the fear- failure. One can always sit for a paper gain or get low scores for an exam, but once prey to a mental illness, it is very difficult to pull your child out of that condition. By the end of it, no amount of stress is worth taking to risk your mental being.

– Shreya Lahoty

BEACHING “THE BLUE WHALE CHALLENGE” – A game with a bizarre reward “death”

We have all come across the compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up and then having that person agree to a modest request. The blue whale game works on a similar principle where the participants are assigned simple tasks in the beginning and then level of task difficulty elevates and the last straw is when they are asked to end their lives.

The blue whale challenge is a suicide game wherein a group of administrators or a certain curator gives a participant a task to complete, everyday, for a period of 50 days. These daily tasks start off easy- listening to certain genres of music, waking up at odd hours, watching a horror movie, among others, and then escalates to carving out shapes on one’s skin, self-mutilation and eventually suicide. Participants are expected to share photos of the challenges/tasks completed by them. Those who want to give up or back out are threatened, saying that the administrator possesses all their information and would bring harm to them or their loved ones.

It all started with the existence of “death groups” on Russia’s most popular social media network, VKontakte (also known as VK), that was inciting young teens into committing suicide. According to reports, there were about 130 reported adolescent suicides in Russia between November 2015 and April 2016 and a majority of these children who took their life were part of the same social media groups on the internet — death groups.

The Blue Whale challenge has followed to other countries, reporting the heart-breaking deaths of youngsters in the U.K, U.S.A, some countries in Europe, South Korea and now even in India. The last case reported in India was dated on August 31st, 2017; amounting for a death toll of 7.
Most adults of sound mind with a supportive network at home and at school, are unlikely to stumble upon this “game” or be brainwashed by it. It is crucial to remember that adolescents falling prey to the game already are vulnerable on an emotional and psychological level. They are either predisposed to depression, anxiety, suicidal intent and have low self-esteem and poor self-image. The tactic of the game is that it thrives on vulnerability to self harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts among emotionally or socially marginalised adolescents and teenagers. If we look at the content of the tasks, it has negative affect-suicide ideation, eliciting anxiety, creating fear, inducing maladaptive thoughts etc. According to experts, teenagers are more vulnerable because the virtual world allows them to act freely without the restrictions that exist in the real world. Teenagers generally take these risks because they are vulnerable and prone to seeking validation. Also, it makes them feel like they are a part of something that is bigger than them. The victims might begin the game out of curiosity, but find themselves being psychologically manipulated into continuing with the tasks till they end their lives.

What can be done to prevent people falling into the heinous trap?
Monitor the actions and behaviour of people who are depressed, rebels, introverts, aloof, bullied etc. Any change in their pattern of sleeping, eating, activities should be closely watched.

Addressing the root causes of vulnerability of teenagers and talking to them about such online groups and what they contain is a better defence, rather than getting caught in the panic and banning or restricting their time spent online.

Parents and friends should create an atmosphere of conversation and not interrogation for the potential victims. They must acknowledge the worry and not dismiss them, as this will prevent them from having further conversations with you.

Psycho-education of parents, victims of depression, personality disorders, conduct disorders, socially aloof people, victims of bully etc should be a must. Suicide help-lines should be contacted in case any irregular activity coming to notice. Use social network as a forum to educate and make people aware of a phenomena like this- use of hash tags, graphics, posters, articles etc. Directing people to pages of suicide help lines when they search for these games online.

All in all, curb those wanting to climb the 50 step ladder to suicide.
Be safe. Be smart. End the blue.

Shreya Lahoty

What You Can Do To Help Prevent Suicide.

Suicide is the intentional act of killing oneself. In many cases, suicide can be prevented. Up to 75% of the people who have attempted suicide do something to let us know their intentions before they act. Their behavior changes in a notable manner, they show warning signs and often say something that tells us they are in trouble and need help. For example, you might hear them make statements like ‘I want to be dead forever’ or ‘I can’t handle this pain anymore.’

One of the ways to help identify suicidal thoughts and ideas is to be an active listener. Listening is a dying art and we at Samaritans Mumbai practice active listening, reaching out to as many people as we can. On a basic level, active listening takes the focus off of the helper and puts it on the person being helped. In this way, active listening is not only a very effective form of communication, it also alleviates some of the isolation, loneliness, low self-esteem and feeling that nobody cares that often accompanies bouts of depression. Active listening helps the person realize that they are important and that everyone deserve time and attention. For the person in crisis, being in communication with someone who is actively listening can be a calming and steadying influence. And most beneficial, it also assists that person in getting their feelings out in a safe and supportive environment, thereby preventing suicide. Continue reading “What You Can Do To Help Prevent Suicide.”

Rise of suicide among youngsters – Failure of Society ?

Parental love is nature’s way of ensuring procreation and progeny. When does it all really begin? In the womb? Or afterwards? When do parents really start caring for their offspring ? And is it that simple? Can
parenting be taught? Can you be coached to be a good mother or a loving father? One would have thought that caring for an offspring would be the most natural act in the world. So then can any parent wish ill-will
for their child, only or otherwise?

So what is going wrong? Continue reading “Rise of suicide among youngsters – Failure of Society ?”