Conquering Stress and Anxiety In School Using Psychotherapy
By Carol Goh | Published on 23 May 2021
It is not uncommon to hear students, no matter what level of education they are at, grumbling about stress from school. Before we jump to the conclusion that our youth are a “strawberry generation” and are unable to withstand pressure, let’s explore some reasons why students in Singapore are faced with so much stress.
The types of fear among students
Generally, students suffer from a variety of fears. These could be fear of:
- not doing well academically, or as well as their peers
- not getting into JC/Poly or doing a course of their choice
- being left behind
- not making it in life (such as missing out on a good career)
- being compared negatively and not gaining their parents' approval
Based on a report in the Straits Times on 4 December 2019, a PISA study commissioned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Singapore had one of the highest percentages (over 70%) of students who expressed concern about failure. The OECD average was only slightly over 50%.
The fear of failing is real. Many students have it ingrained in them that in order to get ahead in life, failing in school is not an option. They believe that academic failures have serious consequences, such as not being able to achieve the expectations set out by society and parents. The fear of the future being uncertain may even result in an individual creating negative self-fulfilling prophecies.
FEAR is an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real”. Often, the issues we fear might not even happen, yet, our fear can have negative implications on our mental health.
From fear to worry to stress
A close cousin of fear is worry. Fear of not able to achieve a goal can cause an individual to be plagued by constant worry. Excessive worrying can cause anxiety, which may manifest itself physically, affecting day-to-day life. Common issues faced by students who constantly worry are sleep disruptions or having difficulty falling sleeping. Without proper rest, life then becomes increasingly stressful.
Many parents mistakenly dismiss the stress faced by their children as a common issue that will disappear on its own over time. However, such stress, if not dealt with early, can develop into more serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and hopelessness, which may lead to suicide ideation. Therefore, it is imperative that parents are not indifferent to their children’s fears and stress.
"A close cousin of fear is worry."
Why is failure so difficult to accept?
It is difficult to accept failure because our culture has always celebrated success and condemned failure. From the time we enter primary school, a lot of emphasis is placed on achieving academic excellence. As a competitive society, we are obsessed with the idea of perfection and anything short of that seems “unacceptable”.
"Our culture has always celebrated success and condemn failure."
Here are some examples of what clients have shared that their parents said when they did not perform up to expectations:
- “Where are the 2 marks to 100%?” (despite getting 98%!)
- “You are an epic failure!” (when she scores A for most of her subjects!)
- “To me scoring 50% is a failure”
- “I don’t see improvement despite all the money spent on tuition.”
Sadly, students have been conditioned from a young age to see themselves as a constant failure, never seeming to be able to meet expectations of their parents and teachers.
Jim (not his real name) did not perform well for PSLE and was subsequently posted to the Normal Academic (NA) stream in secondary school. He recounted that those from the Express stream in the school tend to look down on students in NA stream. To make matters worse, even his teachers were not encouraging. Throughout secondary school, he was overwhelmed with the negative thoughts of “I’m a loser”. However, he does not have an outlet to deal with these emotions, and has been supressing feelings of anger, bitterness and shame. These have led to more serious mental issues found in Jim.
Janet (not her real name) has always topped her school exams in primary school. However, for her PSLE exam, she was not the top 5% in her school. Her parents were so disappointed with her that they kept berating her for causing them to “lose face” in front of their peers and relatives. As a result, like Jim, Janet was found to be suppressing feelings of anger, bitterness, and shame. Over time, she has grown to believe that she is a failure and can never succeed in life. She has lost all confidence in herself and has very low self-esteem.
A student’s sense of self-worth is often influenced by how well he or she performs academically. With parents being more educated themselves nowadays, their expectations for their children are elevated.
"A student’s sense of self-worth is often influenced by how well he or she performed academically."
Many students have shared that they face pressure when trying to meet their parents’ expectations. Additionally, they also often compare themselves to their peers in school. Comparisons from many fronts can weigh heavily on them, eventually shattering their confidence when they do not perform well academically.
Psychotherapy intervention for exam stress
To help students to overcome their anxiety, youth counselling can be beneficial. Here at Emotionally Great, we offer youth counselling services in Singapore for students who are struggling with academic stress.
Our counselling for youth begins with helping students identify the fears in their lives by exploring the comments they have received from significant people in their lives, such as their parents, teachers, tuition teachers, and peers.
Some students might be doing well academically but are still reprimanded for not achieving a perfect score. If you can relate to having unrealistic expectations set by your parents, youth counselling can help you immensely. These negative comments are the culprits for making you feel like you are never good enough, which can result in anxiety, constant worrying, sleepless nights, and feelings of hopelessness if not treated.
These negative beliefs are difficult to erase as they have been ingrained in your subconscious mind. Specialised therapeutic techniques such as EMDR, Schema and Inner Child dialogue can help resolve them.
Through effective youth counselling, you will be able to discover your area of strength according to Howard Gardner’s 9 types of intelligence. Knowledge of your personal strength can help you hone your skills according to them (Gardner, 2006):
- Musical (sound smart)
- Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
- Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
- Linguistic (word smart)
- Spatial (picture smart)
- Interpersonal (people smart)
- Intra-personal (self smart)
- Naturalist (nature smart)
- Existential (life smart)
You will learn to drop your past shame, guilt, regret, future anticipation, fears, doubts and inadequacies.
With Emotionally Great’s youth counselling services, you will learn to enjoy the journey of being a student and not let results determine your self-worth. Our certified physiotherapist is experienced in counselling for youths in Singapore and has over 15 years of experience under her belt.
Let your life be full of radiance, joy, confidence, freedom and boundless expressions of your creativity, inner beauty and strength.
"Do not let results determine your self-worth."
Client’s healing journey…
"I have learned that what is written on my result slip does not change my worth as a human, and I have you to thank for that. Thank you for being there when I needed to talk to someone and when I needed help."
Tertiary school female student
"Going for counselling has helped me with my problems in life, even some of which I did not know of. Ms Carol helped me to get over my high and unrealistic expectations of myself academically. I used to believe that I had to get more than 90% on tests and exams in order not to let myself and my parents down. Ms Carol helped me to realise that being able to understand concepts taught in lessons and apply them is more important than merely getting a high mark, for what’s the point of getting a high mark if you don’t understand what you are studying? Ms Carol also helped increase my confidence levels and having someone professional to talk to about my frustrations really helped me to relieve stress."
Tertiary school male student
"I was failing all my subjects and was diagnosed to have learning disability. However, my parents felt I am not that bad. We sought therapy with Ms Carol. She helped me to understand that it is the pressure that I face and anxiety that affects my performance during exams. She used her specialised technique to help me calm down greatly, and she taught me visualisations which really helped during my exams. I managed to pass all my subjects in my last exams which showed I can do it. That greatly boost my confidence and I am motivated to study hard to do well."
Secondary school female student
1. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen by Adele Faber
2. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
3. Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel
4. Why Do They Act That Way by David Walsh
Gardner, A. (2006). Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. New York: Basic Books: New York.
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.