The stress paradox

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WITH OUR old nemesis CXC and his associates, CAPE and CSEC, creeping at the door, we students are excited, dejected, busy, lazy, stressed, unbothered, lively, tired, motivated, indifferent. There are not nearly enough words to convey our cascading emotions as we stand on the brink of these examinations.

In these tests, we earnestly want to do well; we want to make our parents, teachers and schools proud, have them look upon us with favour and pride. Generally though, many students don't know how to study effectively in order to conquer these exams, and because of this and a few other factors, like the ritualistic bacchanal and uncertainty caused by CXC, many of us are crumbling mentally due to the overwhelming stress that these examinations are imposing upon us. Stress, however, can be considered a paradoxical phenomenon.

While we Trinidadians/Tobagonians know that “pressure does buss pipe,” it also possesses the ability to form diamonds. Ergo, on one hand stress can be a major vehicle in which we can progress toward success. To become successful, we often need a catalyst and for many this catalyst is stress. In the words of Michelle Obama, “It’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”

Hence, in dealing with stress and adversity effectively, we reap lessons for life and become more resilient, disciplined and committed; just some of the significant qualities that are mandatory for the real world that we are about to enter into. Without the obstacles that induce stress, we would just be stagnant and possibly allow ourselves to wallow in mediocrity, which of course none of us wants.

Contrastingly, though, stress can break us. At times we don't know how to deal with stress or it becomes a painstaking weight on our shoulders, and as adolescents this is extremely unhealthy. For instance, according to Michaela Pascoe, a mental health researcher, academic-related stress can actually hinder academic performance and cause mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, stress can cause sleep disturbances and other adverse effects. I’m sure that most of us can relate to the latter, so how do we deal with this? Well, let me outline a few useful tips.

Firstly, we need to take breaks. In my personal experience, taking breaks to enjoy activities that I love, such as listening to or playing music, watching my favourite show, even something as simple as watching the night sky in silence, are important ways to regulate my stress levels. And unsurprisingly, the World Health Organization suggests doing this. All of us have things that we love to do and we should engage in these activities even in this gruelling time period – in moderation of course.

Furthermore, we must stay in touch with our family and friends. Often we could isolate ourselves in our rooms and forget that we’re not fighting alone in this rigorous battle. We have our friends who are writing these exams with us. We are meant to support and aid each other as the exams draw closer. A simple conversation with a friend can ease much tension during any adversity. The same goes with our family, especially our parents. When we feel down and out, we can seek out conversation and encouragement from them.

Additionally, it’s very important to stay physically healthy. Our physical health can have a direct impact on how we fare mentally. We have to make sure to get sufficient sleep, eat well and stay active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US says that getting sufficient sleep (eight-ten hours) is essential for good focus and concentration. Absence of proper sleep can cause poor mental health and attention deficit issues.

A healthy, well balanced diet helps us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span. Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue and impaired decision-making. Lastly, exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress and boosts physical and mental energy.

Indeed, we are in the midst of one of the hardest times of our teen lives and if we desire success it is paramount that we learn to cope with and use stress to our advantage. We have to prioritise ourselves and our health. It is important to take heed of the tips provided, but we must do our own research to better ourselves and our mental health. If we master the latter, we’ll simply be better individuals in this unforgiving world.

To everyone reading this, I wish you success not only in these exams, but in life and all your other endeavours. We will undoubtedly conquer CAPE and CSEC, and if doubts ever begin to penetrate your mind, recall this quote by Helen Keller which I suggest you let reside in your heart.

She wonderfully articulates, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Jonathan Manzano is an upper six student of Fatima College


"The stress paradox"

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