Leaving Certificate students begin to feel stressed at specific times in the academic calendar. February is traditionally the month that students begin to feel anxious, as they have a lot to contend with.
CAO applications close in February and traditionally the majority of Leaving Certificate students begin mock examinations. It is common for students to feel overwhelmed during this month, however it is important that students do not get too stressed. Worrying about the future and guilt about not studying enough are normal thought patterns around exam time. However, it is important for students and parents to recognise when stress levels may be going beyond a helpful level. Classical symptoms of stress include:
- Poor concentration
- Poor short term memory
- Recurring worrying thoughts
- Lack of tolerance for others
- Anxious about little things
- Prone to bursts of anger and tears
- Indications of feeling ‘down’, alone or misunderstood
- Disturbed sleep
- Poor appetite.
It is essential that students try to keep things in perspective and learn techniques to help reduce stress levels. There are numerous healthy ways to manage and cope with stress during exam periods. However, it is important to note that everyone has a unique response to stress and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to managing it. Therefore, students should experiment with different techniques and strategies such as those listed below and remember to focus on what makes them feel calm and in control.
Have somebody you can confide in. Do not bottle your feelings as this is unhelpful, having another perspective will help you to reason with your thoughts and feelings etc.
Express yourself through writing, art, sport, etc. Journaling is a good way to examine your thoughts and challenge them.
Practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and muscle relaxation techniques.
Reduce caffeine intake (especially energy drinks and caffeine tablets), as these can cause heart palpitations and panic attacks.
Eat well (especially complex carbohydrates).
Explore and have a number of options for the future. Getting the marks to secure your first preference is great, but it is not the end of the world if you don’t. There are other options to get into your course (e.g. PLC courses).
Try to keep things in perspective. Grades are not a measure of your value as a human being, nor do they measure intelligence or creativity.
Students need to keep in mind that mock examinations are effectively a dry run at the Leaving Certificate. Students should also bear in mind that such examinations are not considered to be an accurate prediction of Leaving Certificate points. Mock examinations are usually seen as a wakeup call for students, showing them where they need to focus.