A recurring nightmare most of us can identify with is the one where we're writing an exam. Suddenly, you realize that you've forgotten to bring the hall ticket, or that the bell's about to ring and you've just found out there's a whole page of questions left to answer. The alarm rings, and you wake up, relieved!
The fact that so many of us can relate to these scenarios is proof that exam stress is something that never leaves you, even when you're no longer a student. However, the situation has worsened over time, and today's students are at the receiving end of an incredible amount of stress.
The WHO defines stress as 'a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.' Simply speaking, stress is an essential part of living, and it's a good thing too - it prompts us to address challenges and move on in life. It is when this stress gets overwhelming that it starts affecting our daily life and productivity, which is what happens to students, especially around exam time.
The Latest Research on Stress Management Techniques for Students
Here are some facts about student stress from around the world:
A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that teens report feeling stress levels similar to adults
The American College Health Association (ACHA) conducted the National College Health Assessment II which found that 34% of college students dropped a course or went down a grade due to academic stress
The ACHA also claims that 44.9% of students experience more than average stress and 12.7% experience extreme stress
In the United Kingdom, 45% of students said that they were stressed out by their course
The WHO Report on Mental Health Status of Adolescents in Southeast Asia states that over 10% of Indian students reported feeling lonely and having no close friends
A series of surveys conducted by Japan's National Center for Child Health and Development found that 30% of high school students were experiencing mental distress
Why are students so stressed?
The obvious answer would be academics, and while schoolwork and exams are indeed stressful, there are other reasons that bother kids in their preteen or teen years. Student stress can also be due to performance in extracurricular activities, relationships, parental pressure, social issues or fear about the future.
Children of this age are often at the cusp of deciding on a career path and are probably considering appearing for national exams which can be immensely competitive. The problem here is that it's a vicious cycle - the stress caused due to studies ends up affecting their academic performance, which results in more stress.
If left unchecked, this stress can become chronic and can persist into the college years and eventually into adulthood. Long-term stress can cause physical illnesses like hypertension and weak immunity, along with mental issues like anxiety and depression. This is why it is imperative to train students to practice effective stress management techniques.
10 Science-backed Stress Management Techniques for Students
1. Getting enough sleep
Getting sufficient quality sleep is probably among the most important stress management techniques for students. A study conducted by the University of Michigan's Department of Neurology and published in the Nature and Science of Sleep Journal found that 50% of the students surveyed reported daytime sleepiness and 70% got insufficient sleep.
Sleep has a direct correlation to stress and anxiety, especially for students. Sleepiness is linked to poor academic performance, irritability and a greater risk for accidents. All-nighters have been the norm for too long - it is time for students to reclaim their sleep and get at least 7-8 hours a night.
2. Being physically active
In lower classes, physical education is an important part of the curriculum, but the focus on this decreases as kids enter high school. The International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health published a report that found that physical activity and stress are 'bidirectional' - less physical activity leads to more stress and vice versa.
Harvard Medical School also explains how exercise reduces levels of cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones, while increasing endorphins, the 'happy hormone'. Students can include some level of physical activity in their day by doing yoga in the morning, walking wherever possible, and playing a sport whenever they have an hour to spare.
Meditating is usually considered something older people do, but it is one of the most effective stress management techniques for students. All meditation requires is sitting comfortably and being in the present moment.
While this sounds simple, it can be difficult for students who are beginners. In such cases, a guided meditation app can greatly help. In a study conducted by multiple departments of the University of Arizona, it was found that 87% of the students found such apps helpful in reducing stress, anxiety and worry.
4. Practicing breathing exercises
When the human body experiences stress, it is thrust into a fight or flight mode, which manifests as short, shallow breathing. This in turn affects the level of oxygen in the body, which further increases anxiety and can even cause a panic attack.
Harvard Medical School recommends breathing exercises, the easiest of all stress management techniques for students since it can be done anywhere, anytime, and can instantly relieve any acute stress. An easy breathing technique to follow is the box breathing technique or the four square breathing technique. Breathe in slowly and deeply to the count of 4 -> hold for a count of 4 -> breathe out slowly for a count of 4 -> hold for a count of 4 before breathing in again.
5. Trying Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A 2021 research article on Hindawi proves that Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a superb stress management technique that helps provide almost instant relief from stress. PMR consists of bringing attention to body awareness and relaxing every muscle group one by one.
When done right and practiced regularly, PMR can bring down stress levels in as little as a minute. It is also a great way to induce sleep, which is another factor that alleviates sleep. PMR is a helpful tool that will remove any anxiety before any big event, like an exam.
6. Staying organized
One of the biggest reasons for stress in students is the overwhelm they feel due to their various responsibilities. This can be kept at bay by having a proper daily schedule with specified times for their daily activities like meals, sleep, exercise, chores etc. This is particularly helpful for students with ADHD, who may need more help with stress management techniques for students.
When it comes to academics, students can try time management techniques like Pomodoro, time blocking, task batching or the Eisenhower matrix. However, these plans can get easily disrupted if they get distracted by things like social media. For this, it helps to have a device like the Happinetz Box, through which you can set an internet schedule for your kids.
7. Staying connected
Anything gets easier when you can share it with someone, and this applies to academic stress for students as well. A study published in Sage Journals found that students experienced better well-being and academic success when they maintained a network of close friends.
Staying in touch with family members is also a great way to relieve stress, and it can improve mood considerably. Having a support system in the form of a study group can also help students find creative solutions to problems and overcome any academic issues.
8. Following a healthy diet
We've all experienced the undeniable pull of something high in sugar and fat when we're feeling upset. The American Psychological Association states that teens display similar eating habits, turning to such foods when stressed. However, these offer merely temporary relief, and the ensuing sugar drop can make them feel worse.
On the other hand, when students eat healthier foods, they feel better about themselves, and they are also less stressed about gaining weight. Rather than counting calories, students need to focus on eating at the right time, drinking enough water and keeping healthy snacks on hand.
In many cases stress is because we can't make sense of what's happening around us. In such scenarios, journaling is one of the best stress management techniques for students.
The Permanente Journal published a study that showed that 85% of the people surveyed reported that writing helped cope with stress and had long-term benefits. The good thing about journaling is that you don't need a prompt - students can simply write down their free-flowing thoughts. It'll help them process their emotions and manage stress better.
10. Limiting media exposure
Even adults these days are staying away from negative and triggering media, as a part of caring for their mental health. This applies to students as well - following too much negative news or constantly comparing on social media can upset youngsters.
An easy way to fix this problem is by using the Happinetz box, through which you can blacklist specific domains that may be problematic. You can also use the Advanced feature to filter out specific social media platforms that you want and think are the most triggering. Happinetz has a multifiltering system which blocks more than 22 million adult and unsecured websites and apps. By default, Google and Bing SafeSearch is on that removes explicit content from search results.
Stress is an undeniable part of life, and helping kids to learn how to cope with it is an important life skill. These stress management techniques for students can come in handy when they're facing stressful situations in adulthood too. Please remember that if your child seems to be too worried or stressed to function normally, they may be suffering from anxiety or depression and will need professional help.
What are some quick stress relief techniques for instant relief?
If you need instant relief in a critical stressful situation, the best stress management techniques are breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Other options are to take a walk and meditate. You can also try to stay organized by managing your screen time efficiently which Happinetz can do for you.
How often should one practice these stress management techniques?
While some of these techniques can come in handy in critical situations, it is recommended to practice these regularly, for a few minutes every day. This can make it easier to use these tools when required.
What are some lifestyle tips to cut down on stress for students?
Students should focus on having a set daily routine, eating healthy, sleeping 7-8 hours, getting some physical activity and taking time out to be with friends and family.