Stress is a scourge of the modern day living. “We are in the phase of tremendous growth of knowledge, rapid social change, and technical innovations. For many people, the pace of change is too fast, resulting in stress, ” writes Toffler in “Future shock’. Unfortunately a growing number of students are becoming victims of stress and taking to harmful habits like popping sleeping pills, smoking and even consuming alcohol. These habits though may provide momentary relief and a sense of `high’, are extremely harmful and getting into them would be most foolish and akin to getting into a vicious circle. Therefore it is very important to identify the stress symptoms and seek help to overcome them as early as possible.

Stress is universal and could be disabling human phenomenon. However it can also be a stimulant to growth. In fact `optimum amount of stress is necessary to achieve the best results’. It is the high degree of stress persisting for relatively longer periods that is damaging for our physical and mental health. For example, imagine being totally cool about a forthcoming examination or an interview. What happens? You are not likely to be alert and motivated to work for being successful. On the other hand, if you come under too much of stress, it may cause confusion, disturbed thinking, distorted perception, insomnia and such other symptoms that would result in poor performance/outcome.

Thus, stress could be friendly and useful also and what really matters is how you perceive a situation and go about managing it. Sometimes situations may look similar but their management totally differs. For example you may be performing very well at school and regarded as one of the best students. And yet when you prepare for the engineering or medical entrance tests, you know, that your performance at school does not guarantee your selection in such highly completive examinations. Therefore you have to work much harder under greater psychological pressure for such competitive exams because you would be competing with equally bright or even better students. After all in all the competitive examinations the merit (ranks) counts and not the percentage of marks. If you accept the challenge with healthy spirit and work hard under examination pressure then the stress becomes friendly and helps you to achieve your goal. On the other hand, if you are not mentally prepared to cope with the demands of such situations, you are likely to experience severe stress that may hamper your performance in the examination.

Coping up with examination stress:

As the examination time comes closer, many students approach me with uneasy symptoms like lack of sleep and hunger, anxiety, depression or a strange unknown fear. Attributing all such symptoms, which arise out of stress, to the impending examination may not be justified. A combination of factors such as the family environment, parental attitudes and expectations, friends, social circle, individual emotions and aspirations also play their role in causing stress. Fear of failure too, adds up and multiplies your tensions. After all nowadays the competition is so intense that even after scoring more than 75% in say class 10th you may not get into the stream of your choice at +2 level. Similarly thousands of students aspire to join professions like medicine and engineering and prepare to get through the various entrance exams. However a fraction of them finally manage to get through. Such real life situations are actually a challenge to your potentials and retaining your composure and confidence at such times is the real test. No matter how good a student you are or how well you have prepared for your examination no sooner you allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the situation and come under stress the battle is lost even before it begins.

Stress causes depression, forgetfulness, irritability and aloofness. It would make you feel tired and listless and bring down your efficiency.  Parents sometimes buy tonics for there children to help them overcome the stress. However these, even if effective are short-term remedies. It is important to remember and let me reiterate again that stress is not a disease but in medical jargon, a natural response of the body to all non-specific demands. Therefore no tonic or tranquilizer is going to prevent you from getting stressed, what would really help is the identification of the reason or the situation which is causing stress and preparing yourself to face it in the best possible way. You may simply be unable to manage your time and get stressed or you may have set a timetable for yourself that is too difficult to follow and you end up feeling low and depressed for not being able to follow the regimen. A little introspection here would help you develop an insight into the problem and cope up with the stress. Proper planning and time management can prove to be the best stress busters for at least students like you, and help you overcome your stress completely. I have dealt with both this topics separately in ACC.

You may also choose or develop your own strategy for coping with stress. Rather, I am sure that you already use them without being consciously aware. You might use one or many of the strategies that are used in general to cope-up with or reduce stress in life. One is Confrontational Strategy where you stand your ground and fight till you achieve what you aspire. If you want X (e.g., get through medical or engineering) you might go through the examination again and yet again improving your skills. Another strategy could be, problem solving. It involves devising a plan to deal with the situation. Yet another strategy to cope with stress is emotional – focused strategy i.e., positive reappraisal (looking for silver lining). Following such a plan to reduce stress, you may search for alternate career options, and tell yourself “if not that so what? I would make it somewhere else.” Biofeedback may also be used for monitoring and controlling the physiological aspects of stress.

Above all I would suggest regular practice of Yoga and other relaxation techniques, which not only helps in reducing stress but also in improving your memory and concentration. It is scientifically proven that Meditation could elicit dramatic physiological changes, including decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduced oxygen consumption if practiced regularly. In my own research on University students I found that even simple deep breathing exercise for 15 minutes significantly reduces stress symptoms. Relaxation is associated with deep, long breaths, which can be induced by intentionally creating such a breathing pattern. To begin with you may take long, cleaning breath inhaling and exhaling through the mouth. Later, as you practice, deep-breath lasting 8-12 seconds replace short, shallow breaths. This technique in a varied form is used during ‘Shav Asana’. Don’t wait. Make a schedule of the day and include ‘Yoga’ in your daily routine – it will definitely help you.

The greatest of all stress therapies in the form of Bhagvat-Gita provides a great many insights for stress reduction. It does not forbid materialistic success and growth but warms us of the possible mental stress if we link the ‘work with fruits’. Therefore it recommends “Nishkam Karm” i.e., work hard to achieve the goal but do not get attached to the expectations of its (work) outcome.