Managing matric stress


No one understands stress quite like a Matric student. Increased cortisol (our “stress�? hormone) and adrenalin levels in the brain and body combined with decreased levels of serotonin (our “happy�? hormone) can easily lead to burnout.  The key to not only surviving but also succeeding in your final year is to manage your stress levels. Follow these steps for a positive final year at school.

1. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Everything starts with a thought. Try to control your thoughts and be aware of negative thought patterns. By changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts you will feel much better and have more energy. In addition, be aware of your emotions and triggers. We generally feel negative in specific situations. If we are not aware of those situations and feelings, you might feel out of control and overwhelmed.

2. Breathe. To combat stress it’s important to focus on your breathing and “throw out�? negative thought patterns. When we are stressed we tend to breathe in a more shallow way which does not supply our brain and body with enough oxygen. Calm, deep breathing helps to fight off feelings of stress and anxiety.

3. Sleep well. Ensure that you get enough sleep. Western research shows that we need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Athletes, learners and students need more than less sleep because their bodies and brains work quite hard every day.

Here are tips to get a good night’s rest:

  • Make sure that your room is dark.
  • Make sure there are no noises that disturb you.
  • Make sure that the room temperature is not too warm. 
  • It is important to switch your cellphone and computer/laptop off after 8pm so that the brain can cycle down and is ready to switch off when you go to sleep. 
  • Do not watch violent or too exciting movies at night. The last pictures, feelings and words we see and experience in the evening are the first that are worked through in our dreams. 

4. Eat well. 

  • Avoid sugary and fatty foods. They may give us that much-needed boost but they spike our insulin/blood sugar levels and quickly pass through our blood-stream, leaving us feeling low in energy, irritated and sometimes suffering from headaches. 
  • Rather eat small low GI meals regularly to keep your energy levels up and running. This will help you to work longer, study better and concentrate more. 
  • Incorporate supplements such as Omega 3+6, Vitamin C, Vitamin B and Magnesium into your diet as they help you to focus better, giving you more energy and helping you to boost your immune system.


5. Drink water. Because our bodies are made up to 80% of water, it’s important to replenish our water balance regularly.  Drinking water while learning is beneficial for the brain and enhances concentration and memory.

6. Exercise regularly. Make sure that you exercise at least three times a week for about 35-60 minutes a session. Here’s why:

  • Exercise ensures that you get enough oxygen into all parts of your body.
  • Exercise increases serotonin and lowers cortisol. 
  • Exercise helps you to sleep better.  

7. Manage your time.  A time management plan is the best way to get through the heavy work load in your final year:
Only plan with 60% of your time as it has been shown that we need the other 40% for the unforeseen.
Make a list of what you need to do every day and try to stick to it. Ticking off your achievements boosts the self-esteem and allows us to feel in control and calmer.
Plan your school work well in advance to avoid the stress of having to study last minute.
Repetition also helps to us remember learned material more efficiently.
Set goals. Research shows that motivation alone is not enough to change behaviours. We need to have goals that we can achieve and a routine to stick to our plans. Furthermore, it is important to set SMART goals and write them down:
S – Sustainable
M – Manageable
A – Attainable
R – Realistic
T – Attach a time frame
Goals give you a sense of direction. But you have to give yourself enough time to reach them. Not achieving goals lowers our self-esteem and often leads to under-achievement because we are scared to fail again. Smart goal setting is important to stay on track and make sure you feel good about yourself

You might want to read about the things you should know when applying for university.

Combat Anxiety and ‘down feelings’.
Re-visit your breathing techniques every day to stay calm.
Focus on positive thoughts and outcomes every day.
Find balance. To keep a good balance in life seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve. Make sure that you are motivated, have your goals in mind, set out a plan how much and what you want to do every day, sleep enough, eat and drink healthily, exercise regularly and have free/fun time. Being out of balance often means that we over-indulge, self-medicate, get sick quicker, feel deprived and cannot stick to our plans. Be aware of how much time you spend on everything in the day and week and find a healthy balance!
Study smart. Finally, re-visit your tried and tested study techniques.  Here are some more:
We learn best when we have to explain to someone else what we have learned.
Make sure there are emotions attached to the learned material, e.g. own experiences, examples from others, smells, sounds, colours etc. The more we can connect the material to something we are familiar with, the better we can remember it.
Furthermore, group newly learned material: we call this chunking. The brain cannot remember more than 6-7 new items. If we chunk them together we are able to learn even more than that because we have combined some information.
Revisit new materials/information before you go to sleep as it is processed better and break everything up in small parts that are manageable to learn.
Remember, the calmer and more positive you are, the better the end-result will be. Read about the things that will help you succeed at university.

What are your top stress busters?