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Stress test

Image used for illustrative purposes only.

BENGALURU: After nearly two years of intense education-related stress due to the pandemic, the added pressure of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) is aggravating the psychological distress of students and affecting the well-being of their families.

Many students suffer from severe anxiety, sleep disorders and depression related to their NEET results. Exams are a fundamental part of student life, but for some, the pressure to perform can escalate into significant psychological distress, including depression and anxiety.

The constant uncertainty surrounding NEET exam schedules and procedures takes a significant toll on students’ mental health. This ambiguity creates anxiety and makes it difficult for students to manage their studies effectively when exam dates and formats change, leading to feelings of helplessness and lack of control.

Fear of the unknown can turn into anxiety, leading to excessive worry, concentration problems, and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. In some cases, this relentless pressure can lead to depression, characterized by feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.

Pressure on students also comes from external factors, such as social expectations and family demands, which make exams perceived as a measure of self-esteem. Fear of failure can be paralyzing, leading to negative self-talk and loss of confidence. Perfectionism further fuels anxiety and feelings of inadequacy as students set unrealistic expectations for themselves.

Students before NEET 2023

Furthermore, the lack of healthy coping mechanisms for exam stress can leave students feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained. The absence of a supportive ecosystem exacerbates this stress, leaving students in a dilemma about their education, course choice, transfer to other institutions, and alternative career paths.

Addressing the problem

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By fostering open communication, seeking professional help, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing mindfulness, and relying on accurate information, students can overcome the emotional turmoil associated with exam uncertainties. Health professionals have a crucial role in providing the support and guidance needed to help students navigate these difficult times effectively.

It is essential to encourage students to prioritise their physical and psychological wellbeing. If they are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, psychological distress, lack of sleep or altered appetite, they should seek professional help. By taking these steps, we can help students manage exam-related stress and support their mental health and overall wellbeing.

Copying mechanisms

Structured preparation: Create a study plan by breaking down your syllabus into manageable sections and setting a realistic timetable. Allocate specific times for each subject and stick to it. Take mock tests regularly to familiarise yourself with the exam pattern and identify areas that need improvement, which also helps in managing time during the real exam.

Mental health and wellbeing: Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine to help reduce anxiety and improve concentration. Engage in regular physical activity, as even a short workout can significantly improve overall wellbeing.

Healthy Lifestyle: Incorporating regular physical exercise and participating in physical activities is essential to maintaining mental and physical health, especially for students under exam stress. Participating in outdoor activities that bring joy can provide a much-needed break from academic pressures. Participating in social activities and spending quality time with family and friends can offer emotional support, helping students manage stress more effectively. Balancing studies with these lifestyle activities can lead to better overall well-being and improved academic performance.

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Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains to avoid energy slumps and maintain focus. Getting enough sleep is equally important – a well-rested mind can absorb and retain information more efficiently, giving you a head start on your preparation.

A strong support system: Recognizing the emotional toll of exam preparation is critical. Maintain a strong support system by staying in touch with family and friends. Sharing your anxieties can combat feelings of isolation. Remember that seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Therapists can provide you with valuable tools to manage stress and anxiety, ensuring you approach the exam with a calmer attitude.

Reinforce positivity: Setting realistic, achievable goals and celebrating even the small wins you achieve along the way can significantly boost your confidence and keep you focused on the bigger picture. Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations.

(The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist at Aster RV Hospital)

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