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Stress management, motivation and parental tips to help support your child through difficult exam times

During the month of June I had the opportunity to talk about Mental Health in terms of stress and anxiety on Education Indaba – 91.3 The Voice of the Cape and the Vodacom Road 326 Show – Riverside FM.

The year has definitely turned out differently than everyone thought. All the changes, losses and feelings of being out of control can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
Stressful times can have both a emotional and physiological effect on us especially when we are out of our normal routine. All the changes in our “normal life” and school routines can affect our mood and contribute to our stress and anxiety levels.

Tips to help manage stress from a physiological point of view

• Encourage a bedtime routine (still sleep 7-8 hours a night)
• Work in at least 30-60 minutes of daily physical exercise (even if it’s just walking)
• Encourage a healthy diet – eat healthy and reduce sugar intake
• Limit energy drinks and caffeine (in individuals that are prone to anxiety energy drinks and caffeine may cause more anxiety)
• Learn, teach and let your child practice relaxation techniques such as breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai-chi for stress management or mindfulness

What can students do to motivate themselves

First, ask yourself, “What is your why” … Why do you spend all these hours on a task or project? Would you like to get into the university of your choice? or maybe you want to apply for a job with your matric certificate next year? So ask yourself “what is my goals?” Keeping your end goal in mind on days you are unmotivated really helps you stay on track and be more focused.

Set smaller realistic and reachable goals for yourself – I always say “you eat an elephant one bite at a time”. If your goal it too big, it might overwhelm you enabling you to start. Sometimes when you have so much work and you don’t know where to start, you can easily procrastinate and end up doing nothing! This is where planning comes in – things like study timetable and to do list could come in handy.

My number one tip is to “Just start”. It is important especially during this time to just start, start with the first thing (eg. first question on the assignment) or an easier/smaller thing on your to do list or timetable. Most of the time once you start, the rest will follow.

Focus on small wins each day and reward yourself once you reached goals (no matter how small).

Practical tips for parents to support their children

Be emotionally present for your child as far as possible. Have meaningful conversations with them and create an open and safe space for them to feel they can talk about things like emotions, challenges and losses they might be experiencing.

The dinner table is always a good place to start (everyone needs to eat). As a family eat around the dinner table at night. It is good family time to check in with everyone especially your child. Ask how their day was, their highlights of the day, what they are proud of and what they found challenging during the day. In this way, parents can also notice when their child is not doing well and when the pressure or stress might be too much.

Show them that you support them and that you are present. Even if it is just taking them a cup of tea when they are studying. It’s all about the small acts.
If you see your child is discouraged you can suggest that they relax for an hour or two, or go take a walk around the block with them, encourage them and let them know that you believe in them.
Help your child set their goals and motivate them to stick to their goals and schedule. If your child reaches their goals, let them know that you are proud of them. Celebrate these successes (even the small victories) and reward your child for their hard work.

Stress is a normal part of life and it is a normal and healthy emotion to experience. However, the moment it does affects our lives, our normal everyday functioning and turns into anxiety, it becomes an unhealthy emotion and one would need to seek professional help.

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