Last updated on 10 May 2022
For parents, juggling household responsibilities and work commitments may become even more stressful during our children’s exam periods. The added responsibility of tutoring our children, making sure they catch up on every last bit of the curriculum while keeping track of their mental wellness may take a toll on our personal health.
Some of us parents may be familiar with these effects of stress on our bodies when the exam period rolls around: decreased appetite, headaches, poor concentration, rapid heartbeat or insomnia. Other signs of stress such as crankiness, irritability and angry outbursts could affect our loved ones adversely. It could also be counterproductive in creating a conducive environment for our children to do their best.
Ahead of the next exam period, let’s learn how to better manage our stress with these 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 kill two birds with one stone – while you exercise with your family to uplift your mood, take this opportunity to bond!
Breathe in and out deeply
Stress relief techniques can help the body to minimise its reaction to stress. An 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.
A common mistake among people who are pressed for time is that they often resort to caffeine to stay awake so they can 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 turning 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 feel happier as your blood alcohol content rises, you may feel more anxious and stressed once the alcohol level begins to fall and normalise. At the end of the day, not only is alcohol ineffective in alleviating stress, it can even increase stress levels.
Take a break from your screen
Medical studies have found that long periods of computer or phone usage have long been identified as reasons for stress, sleep loss and depression. Being constantly connected also means that your emails, texts and calls from work may keep coming in and pile on more stress. Counteract that by taking frequent breaks.
As a guide, a 15-minute break should be scheduled for every 2 hours of computer work, and a break every hour if intensive keyboard work is performed. You should also avoid screen time for at least 1 hour before bed.
Make time for yourself
It may sound like an impossible feat when there is already not enough time for anything. However, it may be good to cut ourselves some slack, take a day trip somewhere to engage in retail therapy or watch a soccer game alone. For those who are less willing to go on leave, a long 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 can make 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 simple activities such as having pizza or a board game 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 having emotional support from your group mates can be beneficial. One may consider forming a group chat with friends who are in the same phase of life, or with parents of your child’s friends. It is reassuring to know that you are not alone struggling to balance work-life-exams.
Have a banana
Bananas are rich in potassium, which helps to control blood pressure. Hence, having 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 can be kept at bay. Additionally, bananas are known to be effective in increasing energy and expediting recovery. This makes bananas a healthy and convenient breakfast or snack option when you are stressed and pressed for time.
Understand that grades are not everything
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 also feel the pressure.
The next time exams come around, let’s learn how to keep our stress levels down and keep the whole family sane.
Article reviewed by Dr Joy Lim, acting medical director at IHH Healthcare Singapore
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