Our expert tutor, Margaret-Mary, talks both students and parents through some examples of stress, with strategies to help. Using her knowledge from a tutor and a student viewpoint, Margaret-Mary uses real-life examples and situations.
“Students deal with stress. If you are a parent or teacher, or even a student yourself, you will know exactly what I mean. So, let us focus on where we can manage our own stress and teach our stressed-out students how to manage theirs.
The Circle of Control.
The circle of what you can control, and the circle of what you can’t.
Another way of putting it, accept what you cannot change, and change the things that you can. Accepting what you are unable to change brings serenity and changing what you can requires courage. Knowing the difference is wisdom, but the handy circles diagram helps with that.
The Circle of Influence
We can only control ourselves. How we choose to act and speak, and the attitude we adopt, will have an influence on what happens to us to some extent.
A teacher sent a student out of her lesson for being rude to her when she asked him to stop talking. He was very angry and stressed.
We looked at what he could control, the stuff in the centre circle, and we came up with alternative approaches he could make to the situation. He said it wouldn’t really matter because he would have a detention anyway. I agreed, maybe he would, and he had no control over that – only his response when his teacher came out to talk to him.
When she did come out, he apologised immediately for his rudeness and acknowledged that he was out of order. His teacher was surprised at his about turn, and so pleased that she excused him from the detention! Choosing a different attitude and making right his mistake influenced the outcome.
The Circle of Concern
The outer circle contains the external factors we have no control over. But we do have a choice. We can focus on them and put our awareness and our energy there. Energy flows where attention goes. That leads to anxiety and stress.
Alternatively, we can accept them, and put our awareness into those things in the inner circles where we have control and influence. That leads to a greater sense of serenity because we can feel improvements in our situation as a result of what we do. Try to make a version of the Circle of Control that is personal and specific to you.
Stressed out Students and Meditation
Meditation for Relaxation
There are a lot of guided meditation exercises for relaxation and they are very easy to find on the internet. Find a time, put headphones in and allow yourself to fall into one. You will feel the difference immediately. Do it habitually, and you will feel more relaxed as a general state of mind.
Mindfulness of breathing is a simple meditation to do anywhere. Be comfortable, close your eyes and count either your in breaths or your out breaths up to ten, and then start again from one. When you notice that your mind has wandered, and it will wander, just start again from one.
“Meditation is concentrating the front of your mind on a mundane task so that the rest of the mind can find peace.”
Example in action:
A Year 12 student I taught always did well in class, but when it came to tests, she did badly, often barely scraping a grade. When I commented on it with a view to identifying the problem, she burst into tears. I suggested a meditation technique.
In the next test, she improved to a B grade, and after that, she hardly ever missed an A, which is what she finally achieved in her A level Chemistry. Her stress was getting in the way, quite definitely and she was able to manage it, she could do what she was capable of and wanted to do. Awesome!
Meditation for Learning
Learning as a bit like collecting information during the day, and then when we sleep at night, it all gets filed away in the brain. When we meditate on it, it is as if our brain “office angels” are collecting the relevant files and putting them on our desk ready for us to use when we need them.
The night before an exam, when you’ve done as much revision as you can, meditate on the subject. Lightly pass your mind over the subject, the lessons, the notes and questions. The trick is to not try to hold onto anything or work it out. It is to let what you have been learning in that subject drift into your mind. Sure, it doesn’t eliminate exam nerves, but it brings about a feeling of readiness.
The Panic Zone
When students get stressed, they can often find themselves in the panic zone. Dismissing it as overly dramatic reaction is likely to make it worse.
One strategy to bring the panic-stricken person back into the present is to focus them on their body and what they can physically sense. It is an effective technique that I have used with stressed out students to calm them before their exam,
The Five Senses Grounding Exercise.
Insist on eye contact and hold it throughout.
- What do you see? – prompt them, ask them to describe colours, shapes, objects….
- What do you hear? – prompt, stop talking, encourage listening, prompt
- What do you smell? – breath in deeply yourself as if catching the wind. They will probably mimic you.
- What do you taste?
- What do you feel? – temperature, clothes, textures etc.
Describe as much as possible. As a parent, ask them questions. Breathing starts to slow down and energy settles. It takes around five minutes to feel calm.
It is only natural that students get stressed out by school, studying and exams, especially when there are high stakes like their whole future involved. However, there are steps we can take to help them learn to manage stress.”