Long days and nights trying to study… Coffee and orange juice by the litre… Snapping at everyone near me – those are some of my memories of matric and for many learners the stress has only increased.” Says school counsellor Mandy “ Uncertainty in the job market, economic instability, crime and societal strain add up to a 2008 matric group who are stretched to their limit. “Many learners feel that matric is it, there is nothing after matric, and if they don’t do as well as expected their futures are bleak It’s so important to let learners – and their parents – know that there is light at the end of the matric tunnel”.
Tshepiso matriculated last year and recalls her stress and strain. “I could barely breathe, I expected so much of myself and had so much external pressure to perform well that I sometimes wondered how I was going to get through each day.” Tshepiso phoned the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s toll-free line and spoke to her school counsellor as well. “I was so stressed I knew I wasn’t functioning properly. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, and my eating was terrible”, she says. After exams, waiting for the results were even worse for Tshepiso. She knew she had done her best, but would it be good enough?
Christopher knows all about stress. He and his father were high-jacked during his finals. “I was trying to deal with the trauma and get through my exams. I sometimes wondered how it would be possible but with help from a counsellor I did. I guess in a way I was lucky, I realised that matric wasn’t the only thing in the world worth stressing over – there were bigger things.”
Corina remembers some of her peers saying that if they didn’t pass matric, they would commit suicide. “In a way I could understand their stress and worry but I never thought that failing matric was reason enough to destroy your future”, says Corina who always believed that matric was just another exam.
Family support, teacher availability and regular exercise, sleep and proper diet all helped these learners get through their exams. “My teachers were always there if I had a question and gave me lots of encouragement and help”, says Corina. But, say some mental health professionals, children and teens need to learn coping skills before they get to matric. “It is vital that parents and schools teach children how to cope and foster the development of a positive self-esteem and resilience in children so they are able to deal with the stresses of matric in a constructive way”, says teen wellness coach and educator, Janine Shamos. “We too often expect our youth just to handle what life throws at them – they can’t, unless we show them how to. Self harm is a very real threat at this time of year – we need to start looking at prevention.”
“This is a tough time for matriculants, and their parents. There’s a lot of pressure and high expectations to perform, and those learners who don’t do as well as they had hoped can feel dejected and hopeless”, says Mandy. But while many learners and parents feel isolated and alone, there is help available.
SADAG has trained counsellors manning their toll-free lines for acute stress and severe depression – 0800 12 13 14, 011 262 6396 as well as their SMS line 31393 – from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week.
Anyone feeling overly anxious or desperate is encouraged to call the line. “We are here to help learners and their parents with the stress. I have always believed that failure need not be the end of the world; it can be an incredible opportunity for learning and growth, Unfortunately we cannot help with studies or educational problems” says Cassey Amoore, SADAG Counselling Services Manager.
“I’m about to write first year exams at varsity – now that’s stress”, jokes Tshepiso who is doing a Bsc at Wits. Christopher, who didn’t get the results he had wanted, has some good advice – “I didn’t get the marks I wanted and I was devastated at first but I spoke to the university and wrote their entrance exam. Now I’m doing a Bcom Law – just what I had dreamed of. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get what you want, as long as you know you did your best. Believe me, there are so many more stressful things in life.”
Exams are never fun and seldom easy. Matric is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. Remind yourself that this is the nature of the exam-beast and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Some study tips to help you:
Make a time-table so you know what you have to study and when
Stay away from the junk food, coffee and stimulants – they slow the brain’s ability to concentrate and retain information
Eat healthy snacks like orange juice and Provita and cheese
Take regular breaks – the brain can only absorb so much information without over-writing itself – study for 45 minutes then take a break for 10
Don’t watch TV or read during your breaks – go for a walk, kick a soccer ball, get some fresh air and stretch your body
If you can’t sit and study – don’t… Walk, talk, teach – it will help you remember. Exercise also helps.
Use colours when studying, it’s easier for the brain to relate
Get enough sleep, set a routine and set small goals.
Be prepared when going into your exam – have everything you need, make sure you have eaten and gone to the bathroom before you start
For more information: www.Sadag.org