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My Name Is Lori and I Hate Exams!

My name is Lori and I hate exams. Most of the time I get so anxious about an exam that I avoid studying. I can’t think about it, I avoid conversations about homework because the thought of tests puts my stomach in knots. The night before my last exam, I tried to make myself study. I opened and closed my books continuously. By 11:00pm, I finally forced myself to keep the books open. I thought I was going to throw up. Finally, at 3:00am I turned off my light. The exam was at 8:30am the next morning. (1)”
Besides a family breakdown, young adults name exam stress as the second greatest demand on their physical, and emotional well-being. For months and even years, the importance of exams is imprinted on  their minds, causing stress levels to increase as the exam date approaches. 
 In 2005, an Ipsos Reid study (2) reported “when it comes to exams, all students are stressed and many experience a lot of stress.” The study showed that no students were stress free and 47% of students in Ontario experienced very high levels of stress. The respondents to the study cited these three main reasons for the high levels of stress. Too many exams to study for. Pressure to do well. Balancing study with other responsibilities. 
This may come as a shock to many students (my daughters included), but stress does not have to consume your life!  Coping with the stress of exams starts with recognizing the symptoms. If you’ve lost your motivation, energy or concentration, if you feel panicked, worried or guilty, consider these tips to keep stress at a minimum during these final weeks of your school term.
 Simply Say ‘No’.  You can say ‘no’ to watching a movie with your friend, the party next Saturday night, or any other distraction that eats away your study time.  ‘No’ is as valid an answer as ‘yes’. If you clearly define your boundaries your stress about the exam will decrease as your confidence to write it increases.
 Stay Healthy.  Studying often requires long days at the library where there is no fresh air, few food choices and a whole lot of sitting around.  Take snacks of fresh foods and vegetables to fuel your brain, take a 15 minute breath of fresh air every couple hours. Consider limiting your caffeine consumption as it increases heart rate which can increase anxiety about exams and disturb your sleeping patterns.
 Avoid Stressed-Out People.  Resist the urge to study with ‘drama queens or super-intense’ friends.  Whether you realize it or not, stress can be contagious and you likely don’t need their stress contributing to your own. 
 Make A Plan and Stick to It. For most universities, there is roughly two more weeks of classes then exams start.  Why not take the time now to develop an exam calendar.  Schedule study periods, rest periods and free time.  Making a plan helps to organize your thoughts and days, and helps to alleviate last minute juggling of priorities which contributes to stress.  
 Finally……Think Good Thoughts About Yourself.  Think about passing, not failing.  See yourself knowing the answers and completing the test with confidence.  Obviously you had the intelligence to get into university in the first place, with hard work and right focus you can make it through the exams!
(1) Case information printed with permission.  Name has been changed fro privacy purposes.  
(2) Canadian University Students On Study Habits And Exam-Related Stress, Ipsos Reid, April 2005.

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Helping Children Grieve

The Michael Rafferty murder trial taking place a few kilometers from my home has captured the heart of our city, province and nation.  As I watch the news, a lump forms in my throat at the sight of Tory Stafford’s father.  Gosh.  To sit in the same court room with the man who allegedly murdered and sexually assaulted his 8 year old daughter and hearing once again the gruesome details of her final hours of life; I commend his strength.  For Tory’s mother to reopen the brutal wounds of grief, in full view of an entire nation, I doubt I could be so brave.  Certainly the strength and bravery needed as adults to face this impossibly senseless situation is incredible, but what of the children involved?  How can Tory’s brother Daryn, her former classmates and ‘kids that lived down the street’ process this frightening violation of innocence.  How do your children interpret the news they are seeing on TV?

A child’s ability to deal with a traumatic situation depends largely on the reactions of the adults in their life.  As a child observes their parents, grandparents or teachers, they are highly sensitive to these influential adults reactions, often expressing their feelings in the same way the adult expressed.  Worry, anxiety, hostility and tearfulness may be learned responses in a child unsure of how to interpret the trauma.

It’s helpful for adults to talk with the children in their life about their concerns, balancing it with explanations of how all involved can get through this together.  Children should be invited to process what they are seeing, hearing and feeling, in an atmosphere of comfort and acceptance.  When adults gently respond to fears, clarifying concerns, children experience relief from any misinterpretations they have made.

In his article ‘Children and Trauma’, John Levington of International Counselling Ministries made these suggestions for helping children deal with crisis.

  • Debrief children after a crisis to let them tell their story and to reveal any wrong assumptions, fears, or personal blaming they may be experiencing. After listening, help reframe the crisis for children without implying judgment.
  • Help children learn to use words that express their feelings, such as sad, scared, angry, or happy. Remember you as an adult may have also been affected by this event so be sure the words fit the children’s feelings and not yours.
  • Re-establish a sense of order and routine. A regular schedule helps recreate a sense of security for children.
  • Plan and carry out activities that will calm the children. Encourage young children to use art (drawing, painting, clay modeling, and collage) to express their emotions.
  • Reassure children that the event is being dealt with appropriately—people getting medical attention, police responding to the criminals, buildings being cleaned up or repaired, and support being offered to those affected by the trauma.
  • Read stories about crisis situations and how God provided for those involved.
  • Help children care for those affected by the crisis through writing letters, sending pictures, baking food, or otherwise helping in a way that fits with their abilities. Actively doing something to help others refocuses children’s thoughts or emotions in healthy ways without minimizing them.
  • Lengthening story telling or cuddling at bedtime may be necessary the first few nights after a trauma.
  • Remind children that they have support of people throughout the world. Share letters or newspaper articles from others who are empathizing with them and praying for them. This will reassure them that others care about them, making them feel less alone and vulnerable.
  • Together discuss ways God evidenced care in this trauma and thank Him for his provision.
  • Pray with the children regarding their fears. Help them with memorization of Bible verses regarding fear.
  • Help children work through their normal questions regarding why God didn’t protect them from this trauma. Use this difficult situation to teach about God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, and the work of evil in the world.