Navigating the storm: Youth Mental Health During Exam Season

Gary Feldman
2 October 2023
4 min read

The youth of today face a multitude of challenges, and one of the most daunting among them is the preliminary (prelim) exam season. Those exams serve as a critical juncture in a student’s academic journey, often determining future opportunities and aspirations. However, the pressure, stress, and anxiety the accompany prelims can take a significant toll on the mental health of young individuals. We explore the various aspects of youth mental health during prelim season and offer strategies to help students navigate this challenging period.

Understanding the pressure

Preliminary exams, whether they are high school finals, university exams or standardised assessments, bring with them a tremendous amount of pressure. Students are not only competing against their peers but also against their own expectations and the expectations of their families and society. The fear of failure can loom large, intensifying the pressure and causing severe and anxiety.

The impact on mental health

The mental health challenges that students face during prelim season are real and significant. High levels of stress and anxiety can manifest in various ways.

  1. Physical symptoms, stress can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Many students have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep due to racing thought about exams.
  2. Emotional distress, anxiety and stress can lead to mood swings, irritability, and a sense of hopelessness. Students may feel overwhelmed by the pressure and doubt their abilities.
  3. Cognitive impairment, excessive stress can impair cognitive functions, making it harder for students to concentrate, remember information, and thing clearly. This can affect their performance on exams and their overall academic success.
  4. Isolation, the intense focus on studying can lead to social isolation, as students often feel they have little time for anything other than exam preparation. Loneliness and a lack of social support can exacerbate mental health issues.

Strategies for supporting youth mental health during prelim season

  1. Open communication, encourage open and honest communication with students. Let them know that it’s okay to talk about their feelings and concerns. Be a supportive and empathetic listener.
  2. Balanced study routine, help students create a balanced study routine that includes breaks, physical activity, and relaxation. Allowing time for hobbies and social interactions can help alleviate stress.
  3. Goal setting, encourage students to set realistic academic goals. Help them break down their study materials into manageable chunks and create a study schedule that aligns with their capabilities.
  4. Stress management techniques, teach stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. These practices can help students stay calm and focused during the exam season.
  5. Healthy lifestyle, emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Encourage students to eat nutritious meals, get regular exercise, and prioritise sleep. A well-nourished body is better equipped to handle stress.
  6. Peer support, foster peer support networks where students can connect with their classmates going through similar challenges. Studying together or discussing exam-related concerns can reduce feelings of isolation.
  7. Limiting screen time, advise students to limit their screen time, especially on social media platforms that can contribute to stress and anxiety. Encourage offline activities that promote relaxation.
  8. Seeking professional help, if a student’s mental health deteriorates significantly, or they exhibit signs of severe anxiety or depression, it’s crucial to seek professional help. School counsellors or mental health professionals can provide appropriate guidance and support.
  9. Self-compassion, remind student that they are not defined by their exam results. Encourage self-compassion and self-acceptance, even in the face of setbacks or failures. Everyone encounters obstacles on their academic journey.
  10. Post-exam support, after prelim exams continue to provide support to students. Offer guidance on how to deal with results, whether positive or negative, and help them plan their next steps accordingly.

Youth mental health during prelim season is a critical concern, given the intense pressure and stress that students often experience. It is essential for parents, teachers, and the broader community to recognise the challenges young individuals face and provide the necessary support and resources to help them navigate this difficult period.

By promoting open communication, teaching stress management techniques, and fostering a balanced approach to studying and life, we can empower our youth to not only succeed academically but also maintain their mental well-being. Remember that academic excellence should not come at the expense of mental health, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that our youth have the tools and support they need to thrive during prelim season and beyond.

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