By: Hooria Haider
I was eight. It was a cold, rainy Wednesday night in January. I woke up in the middle of the night. Unable to go back to sleep, I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. But I never made it that far. From the corner of my eye, I saw a light shining in the basement. Glancing at my digital princess watch, I realized it was 4 am. No one would be awake at this hour. Who could it be? What could it be? As I peered over the staircase, I spotted a creature’s back draped with a blanket and its hair in a dreadfully messy bun. As it turned, I involuntarily let out a scream. Its eyes were completely red, bags hanging under them. It opened its mouth to speak, and the most horrendous smell suffocated me. The creature looked me dead in the eye and I was frozen. Then, like a banshee, it screamed, “SHUT UP! I’M TRYING TO STUDY!” Just as I was ready to run away, I realized I knew this beast. Or at least I thought I did. This thing was once my older sister: someone I looked up to. I remembered something I had heard about her studying for exams. What was this ‘exam’ and what had it done to her? At that moment I swore that I would never let exams affect me like that.
Fast forward years later to my first exam season. One day, I took a look in the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was revisited by the very same monster that scared me all those years ago. I looked at the creature once again and wondered what happened. I used to be so happy. School used to be fun… at least sometimes.
That was it. I decided it was time to clean up my act. This would be the end of the reign of terror caused by STRESS.
Exams, assignments, tests, applications- all of them change us in a way hard for the average person to comprehend unless they are experiencing it. So many questions swirl around in your head. When did I stop caring about personal hygiene? When did I start watching so many ted talks?
People who don’t understand are not much help either. Adults will say, “You’re young. What do you have to be stressed about?”
University students on break will belittle your pain: “You don’t even know the meaning of stress. High school was a breeze.”
No one really understands the pressures of being a student much like a student. So, I’m here to tell you that there is hope for you yet. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And there is a way to survive, nay thrive, in highschool without the expense of your sanity. It might take a little planning. It might take a little patience. But in the end, it is worth it.
The first way to minimize your stress levels is planning. It’s trite but planning is the number one way to avoid stress. Stress is often the body’s response to impending danger, usually the fear of an unknown. Planning your day out can often take out a lot of the anxiety surrounding the unknown because then, in smaller steps, you are more aware of what you have to do. It is important to write out a time frame for a number of tasks whether it be for the whole day or an hour by hour allocation of efforts.When you have a plan to manage your time, your mind has a finite and realistic goal that it is working towards. Some people use planners, while some simply just use sticky notes for the day. Plus, there are few things in this world as satisfying as checking a box in your list of tasks to complete.
Aside from planning, I have come to learn about the importance of keeping morale up. When studying it is very easy to get into a bad mindset that is damaging to both productivity and mental health. ‘I’m tired’ turns into ‘I don’t want to do this’ which turns into ‘why am I even in school?’ which eventually turns into existential questions that you do not have time to answer. Figure out your limits; what is your brain’s productivity battery life until you have to recharge again? Schedule breaks accordingly. During these breaks it is imperative to stay away from watching any compelling shows or reading any interesting books. My recommendation for this time is re-reading one of your favourite books because that way you won’t read for longer than you allow because you already know will happen in the story. If you are going to watch a video, make yourself laugh; watch clips of a stand up show or a compilation of vines or memes.
Additionally, self care can be a savior during a stressful period in life, both for you and the people around you. Don’t write off things like hygiene, sleep or exercise. At times like this, these things become even more useful and important. Just because you feel rotten on the inside does not mean that you should smell like it on the outside. Exercise has been proven to relieve stress and make you happier regardless of whether you do it for half an hour or two hours. As well, aromatherapy, is a known stress reliever. Particularly, peppermint essential oil is said to wake up your brain. Playing classical music as you study can also soothe you and help you learn (unless you find it distracting). Sleep, above all, can be the key to happy studying. I know that we all pull a couple all nighters from time to time; after all, desperate times call for desperate measures, but research shows that studying past 12 am, a person’s short term memory is severely lowered. So don’t torture yourself for sub-par results. Sleep clears the mind before a test. All nighters scatter the mind.
Feeling a sense of purpose can also be a very useful during stressful periods of our lives; it puts life into perspective. Often people feel stressed over an assignment or a course because it seems to be the most important thing to them. We begin to lose sight of what we are actually fighting for. It is important to take a step back and see that there is more to life than ourselves and material priorities. Volunteering provides for this outlet to feel that you have done something not just for yourself but also for someone that really needs it. This can be enough to bring us happiness and takes the pressure off of the retrieval of the marks or accolades that have become our number one priority in life.
In the moment, stress can make you feel like the problem at hand is the end of the world and in reaction to it, we become monsters. We must make the conscious choice to change how we see our stress from a viral epidemic that changes us completely as soon as exams roll by to a light cold that can be easily fixed if we stay a warm and drink lots of water. You see, it is natural to feel stressed by school, however it is what you do about that stress that builds character and can change your perspective on life and academics.