How Hong Kong Students Can Avoid Exam Stress
It’s that time of year again, when exams roll around, stress levels skyrocket and worries seem to take centre stage. As parents, you may see the worst of it at home with your son or daughter having sleepless nights, increased irritability and their emotions running high.
What can you do to support your child through this challenging time?
The first step is understanding what anxiety and stress look like, both physically and mentally. Anxiety is a completely normal and regular emotion to experience, however when left unmanaged it can quickly become crippling and begin to affect day to day functioning.
Physical symptoms may include: increased heart rate, difficulty focusing, trouble sleeping or getting out of bed, tight chest, tense muscles or headaches, loss of appetite, feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings of being withdrawn, upset stomach, or low mood. Symptoms of stress and anxiety look different for everyone, but understanding how it can affect you physically, sometimes helps it feel more manageable.
After you identify what it looks like for you and possible triggers, you can begin the process of managing it:
- Set up good study habits. Rotate between a few favorite study places (e.g. the dining room table, a cafe, the library, etc). Make a list of what you need to get done and create a schedule for the next week of what time you’re going to do what (don’t forget movement and food breaks!). Find a good study buddy that you can work with and help support each other through this time.
- Take time for yourself. What makes you feel good? Whether it’s a walk or nice bath, do not underestimate the importance of self-care.
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Getting the right nutrition is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and can make a big difference when we’re feeling stressed. It’s a time when it is even more important to eat nourishing, balanced meals that help us to maintain focus and get a good night’s sleep.
- Get some exercise, preferably outside. Our physical health can be the first thing that goes when we’re really stressed and busy, but it’s one of the most important protectors for supporting our mental health. Try to fold in at least 30 minutes of exercise four times a week, whether it’s going for a swim, running, or yoga. Recent studies have shown the benefits of nature on our mental health, so get outside and explore one of the many trails Hong Kong has to offer.
- Breathe. Slowing down our breath helps to calm our sympathetic nervous system (e.g. our fight or flight response), which is often on high alert when we are stressed. Luckily, there are several apps that help us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. Calm, Smiling Mind, Headspace, Guided Mind, and Insight Timer are all well recommended.
- Get a good night’s sleep. The time before we fall asleep, can be when most of our worries seem to come to the surface. It can be hard to relax when our thoughts feel like they’re spinning out of control. This may be the perfect time to try out one of those apps mentioned above to help calm our physical responses and relax our muscles to get ready for sleep.
- Talk to someone. Sometimes it just all feels too overwhelming to approach on your own and getting help from a professional counsellor may be just what’s needed. Remember, we all have mental health that needs to be taken care of. Sometimes we just need a little guidance in understanding what that looks like for us.
Kira Galbraith is a U.S. licensed counsellor in Hong Kong. She currently offers private counselling session at Maya Health Institute, works as a counsellor at Hong Kong Academy, and volunteers at the Justice Centre to support refugees.