"Unplug from social media, and exercise." That's the advice from high-school student Bismah Mahmood as end-of-year exams loom next week.
Bismah, a 16-year-old Year 12 student at Rangitoto College who chairs the Upper Harbour youth caucus, has organised lunchtime workshops for local schools to reduce students' stress before exams begin on Wednesday for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
"We did some colouring in, meditation, we did a few board games," she said.
Youthline counsellors were also on hand to help students who were feeling under too much pressure.
School counsellors say they are seeing a lot more students who are stressed out with exams coming on top of other pressures, such as parental breakups and the resulting poverty.
"There is a plague of anxiety," said Jean Andrews, a counsellor at Taieri College in Otago and school spokesperson for the Association of Counsellors.
"The numbers that we are seeing now are significantly greater than we were seeing 10 years ago."
Andrews says many parents put their children under too much pressure at exam time.
"I've heard a student tell me that 'Achieve' is the new 'Fail', and it's only 'Excellence' that counts," she said.
"As parents, we need to reassure them that their best is good enough, that we love them and are there for them no matter what."
Although many students have earned most of the credits they need to "achieve" NCEA before the external exams, Bismah agrees that that does not necessarily reduce the pressure.
"In my case, my aim is to get 'Excellence' endorsement, so in that case it does get kind of stressful," she said.
She is taking six subjects - biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, English, design and visual communications - with the aim of eventually training in dentistry, but with design as a backup plan.
She does fitness exercises when she gets home before starting to study.
"Exercising is the big one, keeping your physical, mental and spiritual health," she says.
"And unplugging, getting off your social media for a little while."
Mt Roskill Grammar School counsellor Margaret Hoogendoorn advised "outdoor time, and time away from screens, and physical movement/exercise".
She runs workshops teaching relaxation techniques such as dropping your jaw and shoulders and "breathing into your stomach rather than high in your chest".
She promotes an app called Headspace that provides relaxation exercises to do "before you go to bed or before you are doing an exam".
"I encourage students to walk in being philosophical about the exam, doing the very best they can and trying to enjoy it," she said.
"Do one question at a time, starting with the easiest question. Try to go to a place where you can enjoy the exam, so you end up on a roll with it."
Hoogendoorn advised parents to "not ask too many questions about study".
"Pressuring their children right now, just before the exams, is not going to help," she said.
"They are better off loving them and having some fun around the dinner table, taking their child to the beach or to the bush, and being there if they need you."
Hugging, she said, reduces the stress hormone cortisol and producing a soothing hormone, oxytocin.
"So what parents can do is hug their children. Friends can hug each other," she said.
"Hugging really, really helps. Sending your child off with positive energy and a big hug, wishing them well, and not making exams sound like the end of the world if they don't pass. They simply need to do their best - that's good enough."
Youthline's study tips
• Make a study schedule: I know, I know, boring, right? But making a schedule and keeping it will help improve your chances at recalling the right information. You don't need to block out hours every day and put your life on hold. Your brain absorbs information better if you study in short 20-30 minute bursts. Set a timer, and go for it!
• Change it up: Try studying in different rooms, in the library, or quizzing with a friend. Changing your location can help your brain remember facts faster.
• Chill out: Remember what we said above about using a timer? Set it to go off after 20-30 minutes, then take a 10-15 minute break. Stretch your legs, have a snack, or do something fun.
• Talk it out: Sometimes all you need to de-stress is a couple of hours out with your mates. Talk with them about stuff that's going on in your life, and most importantly, have a good laugh. It is surprising how much having a laugh can help to relieve some stress!
• Make time for review: At the end of every week, schedule a small block of time to review everything you learned. Just this one thing alone will help you grasp concepts and recall more when it comes to exam time.
• Study with your friends: Talking through problems and quizzing each other will help you retain information. Just make sure you actually get some work done!
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