Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stress: Causes and Cures

The usual stories of stress, anxiety, suicide and panic fill the newspapers. Parents, fearful lest their children should take their own lives, follow their every move. Occasionally a boy or girl is found hanging from the ceiling fan or in a near-death state from having consumed insecticide. Surely, it is the time to ask more searchin ques­tions about the nature of this which, like some unappeasable monster, each year takes its sad tribute to young flesh. Can anything so apparently benign and necessary as learning justify children taking their own lives?

However, stress is not always bad. In fact, optimal stress helps us prepare for a challenge and give our best. But if your edgy, experiencing lack of appetite or sleep, or disturbed by nightmares, chances are that you are experiencing psychological stress.

Researchers may have found the reason why children go to bed too late often fare badly at school—lack of sleep appears to disrupt functioning of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that formulates new memories.

Exam Fever
Come March/April, and all the students across the country are in the grip of exam fever. Anxious mummies and daddies apply for mass leave and put their lives on hold to provide their kids moral support. Memory pills are devoured, psychiatrists and suicide helplines are on red alert, nutritionists are consulted for the best brain food, yoga and reiki experts are besieged and respected national dailies devote entire pages to tips on tackling diagrams and coping with pre-test blues. Among the more perspicacious recommendations; put your favoured fragrance on a handkerchief and sniff it every time you “blank out”.

We can transfer the blame, of course. Blame a system that has turned education into a cut-throat bazar, where demand hopelessly outstrips supply, and lakhs complete for a handful of college seats. Blame schools for catering ruthlessly to this skewed graph by slave-driving students to achieve their own targets and outperform other institutions. Blame an educational approach that has reduced the youth of the country to mindless parrots, and the vastness of human knowledge to the ignominy of percentages and aggregates. But and this is a but that requires honest reflection—as parents, are we really victims of the “system” ? The answer may be ‘no’. Rather, we are victims of the belief that a marksheet is a candidate’s only passport to the future, a belief that has somehow been ingrained into our collective consciousness by a middle-class sense of insecurity.

It is clear that this ”real world” is no such thing. It is itself a manufactured object of fantasy, into which human beings, the most lucrative cash crop the world has ever seen, must be processed to make money to buy more things, to make more money to buy more things, which, at some distant date, will lead to happiness and fulfillment. No more malign human destiny could be conceived. An education which knows only data, facts and limited forms of knowledge, creates a stunted and incomplete humanity. Even taken on its own terms, there is no place in this scheme of things for wisdom, insight or the deeper, more mysterious knowing of the heart and spirit. There is quite simply, no market for these things, and accordingly they fall into decay and diffuse. Even less is there space for the recognition of other qualities—whoever heard of anyone setting an examination that will measure kindliness, thoughtfullness, honour and duty, and all the things that make life worth—not just a given salary—but worth living.

Why, then, do we still cling obsessively to the IIM/IIT dream ? To put it bluntly, greed. No matter how skilled, an interior decorator hardly starts out with a monthly salary that is more than this middle-aged father’s annual income. Also though other careers provide a decent living, they come with no guarantees and the rewards are chancy. Make no mistake, when it comes to the crunch, the parents are just as mercenary as the “system” we gripe about. The tragedy is that both insecurity and greed are all too easy to project, especially on impressionable 16-year-olds, eager to please their folks.

The competitive world of which the students are a part and contributing their bit to make the situation worse, renders creative souls to mere autonomous, who have to mould themselves according to society’s demands.

Parents who are a product of this society and victims of the same system continue to impose the same philosophy on their children forcing them to take extreme steps like suicide. Too much pressure on students makes them slack off at times. It takes just a few minutes for a students to lose interest and develop a phobia for studies. If the education system is making them commit suicide, one should look into the contents and the strategies that have been chalked out with a purpose to channelise their creative energies in a positive direction.

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has ‘customised’ the syllabus according to changing times. It has tried to incorporate no-judgemental standards in the texts. Students should be able to associate themselves with the text they read. They should have the right to communicate their understanding of the surrounding world in their writing and explanations. Even the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has tried to reduce stress on students by increasing exam time for Maths X by 15 minutes. It has introduced Maths Practical labs of 20 marks where students can score more in comparison to the old pattern of examination.

What happens with most of the students that they get tense before exams which results in poor concentration. Before you start, do breathing exercises or close your eyes for a few minutes. What is required is a clear communication dialogue with parents and a continued focus on your preparation rather than results. Parents need to understand that each child has his/her own capacity and individuality. What he/she can achieve, other person cannot. Undue pressure and nagging can worsen the situation and make your child depressed and anxious.

Ignoring sleep on a regular basis is a sure-shot recipe for disaster. Counsellors say make sure that you do get your full share of sleep every night. Do not feel guilty about sleeping for seven to eight hours three weeks before the exams. Even an extra hour or two helps the brain rejuvenate itself.

It is, therefore, advisable to make proper planning to avoid sudden failure which leads up to frustration. The positive emotions can create neuro-chemical change that buffer the immuno-suppressive effects of stress. You should do yoga and meditation, which can help remove stress away.
Go according to S.M.A.R.T. strategy : S-Small; M-Manageable; A-Achievable; R-Realistic; T-Time-bound.

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