How to have a more stress-free final year at school

A guide for learners and parents

The final year at school can be stressful for both leaners and parents. Here are some hints and tips around how you can have a better, calmer, happier and more positive last year of school. These points are primarily for leaners to follow, however, often leaners have difficulty sticking to their plans, need help with to eating healthily, need to be reminded of their goals and routines, or often just need someone who can calm them down and support them. It is up to you, as parents, to give them the support they need and stay level headed in situations that are stressful for the leaners.

Stress causes increased cortisol (our “stress” hormone) and adrenalin levels in the brain and body. This can create “tunnel- vision” thought patterns and reactions and serves to hinder good learning and decision making. Feeling stressed decreases the production of serotonin (our “happy” hormone) which, together with high cortisol levels and depleted adrenal glands can lead to symptoms of burnout. If we are stressed and feel that everything is too much for us, we create negative thought patterns and self-talk. Negative thoughts tend to de-crease our self-esteem and don’t allow us to feel that we are coping and able succeed in achieving our goals. Hence it is very important to be in tune with our body and mind. Parents can be of great help to ensure that leaners follow the steps mentioned below, in order to have a better, happier and more stress-free final year at school.

1) Try to eliminate as much stress as possible

Stress can be a “killer” when it comes to a focused, happy and positive brain. It hinders our ability to concentrate and sleep well and doesn’t allow us to feel in control. To combat stress it is important that you focus on your breathing and “throw out” negative thought patterns. When we are stressed we tend to breathe in a more shallow way which does not supply our brain and body with enough oxygen. Calm, deep breathing helps to fight off feelings of stress and anxiety. Everything starts with a thought: make sure that you control your thoughts and be aware of negative thought patterns. By changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts you will feel much better and have more energy. In addition, be aware of your emotions and triggers. We generally feel negative in specific situations. If we are not aware of those situations and feelings, you might feel out of control and tend to be overwhelmed. Self-awareness helps to control emotions better!

2) Sleep

Ensure that you sleep enough. Western research shows that we need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Athletes, leaners and students need rather more than less sleep because their bodies and brains work quite hard every day. Make sure that your room is dark; there are no noises that disturb you and that the room temperature is not too warm. It is important to switch the cell-phone and computer/laptop off after 8pm so that the brain can cycle down and is ready to switch off when you go to sleep. Also make sure that you do not watch violent or too exciting movies at night. The last pictures, feelings and words we see and experience in the evening are the first that are worked through in our dreams. If a movie disturbs us, we generally do not have a restful and relaxing night’s sleep.

3) Eating, Drinking and Exercise

When we are stressed and feel that we need more energy, we generally tend to look for something that gives us a boost. Sugary and fatty foods give us that boost but also spike our insulin/ blood sugar levels. Highly sugary foods tend to pass quickly through our blood-stream, leaving us feeling low in energy after a fairly short period. When our blood-sugar is low we feel irritated, low in energy and tend to develop headaches easier. Hence it is important to eat small low GI meals regularly to keep our energy levels up and running. This will help you to work longer, study better and concentrate more. Our body is made up to 80% of water- hence it is important to replenish our water balance regularly. It has been found that drinking regularly whilst learning is beneficial for the brain and enhances concentration and memory. Make sure that you exercise at least 3X per week for about 35-60minutes.Exercise ensures that you get enough oxygen into all parts of your body, it increases serotonin and lowers cortisol. It also helps you to sleep better. You see, there are many benefits to eating and drinking healthily and exercising regularly- it will help you to feel better, combat stress and do well in school. Supplements such as Omega 3 6, Vitamin C, Vitamin B and Magnesium should also be part of your diet as they help you to focus better, giving you more energy and helping you to boost your immune system.

4) Time management

The older we get, the less time we seem have. Often we are involved in too many things that we need to do every day and do not find time to finish everything. The final year of school is very taxing because of the work load. Hence a good time management plan is very helpful. Only plan with 60% of your time as it has been shown that we need the other 40% for the unforeseen. Make a list of what you need to do every day and try to stick to it. It is such a great feeling to be able to tick off what you have achieved and done in the day- it boosts the self-esteem and allows us to feel in control and calmer. Plan your school work well in advance to avoid the stress of having to study last minute. Repetition also helps to remember learned material more efficiently.

5) Motivation and goal setting

What do you want to achieve this year? It is important to establish what your goals are for your final year. Research shows that motivation alone is not enough to change behaviors. We need to have goals in mind that we can achieve and need a routine to stick to our plans. Furthermore, it is important to set SMART goals and write them down.
Set goals:

S- sustainable
A- attainable
R- realistic
T- attach a time frame

Some people might not set goals at all and hence feel that there is no sense of direction. On the other hand some people set goals that they cannot achieve because there is not enough time or they are un-realistic. Not achieving goals lowers our self-esteem and often leads to under-achievement because we are scared to fail again. Smart goal setting is important to stay on track and make sure you feel good about yourself.

6) Combat Anxiety and ‘down feelings’

Re-visit your breathing techniques every day to stay calm. Focus on positive thoughts and outcomes every day. We generally tend to focus on negative events more than on positive events. Be aware of what is positive in the day and think of it in the evening. You will be surprised how many positive things you will be able to think of. If you really battle to fight off anxiety, insomnia and down-feelings, train your brain with neurofeedback. Neurofeedback training is a revolutionary training program for your brain. During the first session a QEEG is done where your brain-waves are assessed. Often there are over- and under-activities in the brain that lead to negative symptoms. Neurofeedback training helps the brain to function optimally again. It is like going to gym for your brain! The results are often permanent and the training is relaxing and fun. (For more information visit our webpage: neurofeedback)

7) Balance

To keep a good balance in life seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve. Make sure that you are motivated, have your goals in mind, set out a plan how much and what you want to do every day, sleep enough, eat and drink healthily, exercise regularly and have free/fun time. Being out of balance often means that we over-indulge, self-medicate, get sick quicker, feel deprived and cannot stick to our plans. Be aware how much time you spend on everything in the day and week and find a healthy balance!

8) Clever studying

Finally, re-visit your study techniques. Often we have developed our own study techniques that might have worked when the work-load was not so much but does not seem to work anymore. We learn best when we have to explain to someone else what we have learned. Make sure there are emotions attached to the learned material, e.g. own experiences, examples from others, smells, sounds, colors etc. The more we can connect the material to something we are familiar with, the better we can remember it. Furthermore, group newly learned material: we call this chunking. The brain cannot remember more than 6-7 new items. If we chunk them together we are able to learn even more than that because we have combined some information. Be clever when learning, remember to drink your water, revisit new materials/information before you go to sleep as it is processed better and break everything up in small parts that are manageable to learn.

Following the above mentioned points should allow leaners and parents to have a more stress-free final year. Remember, it is the last year; the calmer and more positive you are, the better the end-result will be!

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