Over the last month, a huge number of medical students and NEET PG aspirants have started various protests on Twitter and other online platforms, gathering support from a many people, including politicians and student organisations. They have vindicated how the examination is adversely affecting their mental health and creating panic among the students. In an exclusive interview with Medically Speaking, Dr Prakamya Singal, a leading psychiatrist from AIIMS insinuates ways to deal with the upcoming NEET-PG exam stress.
How do the students maintain their calm amid this chaos?
Dr. Prakamya Singal: I think that any exam is an anxiety inducing process for any student. The problem with NEET-PG is that it is multifactorial. With the number of students appearing, level of examination and with regards to the pandemic and policies, there has been a lot of delay around the whole process. Therefore, it is understandable as to why students feel anxious all the time. Whenever we are faced with such situations of uncertainty, it induces feelings of anxiety among us. Children might have difficulty maintaining proper schedule, sleep and concentrating. They might end up losing confidence. What is important is we take care of the proper schedule and engage in some physical activities for at least 30 minutes. Maybe a mild stretch, jog or yoga will help. Deep breathing exercises are definitely recommended which calms down the sympathetic system. 4-7-8 breathing exercise is helpful. Reassuring self-talk and engaging with support groups is also something that can help them.
Now that only a week is remaining for the exam, what would you tell the students to help them relax and feel productive? How can they stay motivated while handling the pressure?
Dr. Prakamya Singal: First thing that goes for a toss during exams is sleep and it is very important. I think we undermine the role of sleep in our cognitive performance. Each and everything we have memorized gets consolidated into long term memory. Since the NEET exam happens during the early morning hours, it’s important to feel fresh early in the morning, which is when they want their brains to optimally perform.
Secondly, take care of your meal. Cut down on the coffee and the tea if you taken as again put our sympathetic system on an overdrive.
Third, deep breathing exercising as I mentioned earlier.
Fourth, reassuring yourself that whatever you done in a past few months is enough. Yes it will always seem like it is not enough, but have faith in yourself, believe in yourself. All of the positive self-talk is very important.
Fifth, focus more on revision, not on what all you haven’t read, but on what you have.
Not just students, but many other youngsters also deal with anxiety. Tell us something about the patterns of anxiety that one may feel and subsequently, what are the ways to handle this?
Dr. Prakamya Singal: Anxiety can have different patterns of clinical presentation. Some of the symptoms are very predictive of the sympathetic system overdrive. In a panic situation, one might feel the heart rate increasing, sweating, dizziness, confusion and worse thoughts may appear. This is what we typically describe as a panic attack.
The other set of symptoms that people might have are autonomic symptoms, wherein people might have gastric disturbance or stomach problems. They might have constipation and acidity, chest pain, headache, dizziness, exhaustion, back ache, neck ache, all of these are symptoms of anxiety.
Third are cognitive symptoms wherein we have difficulty focusing on the work that we are doing which is because the mind all the time is engaged in thinking about anxious thoughts and characteristically, these anxious thoughts take us down a very negative route. We also start feeling irritated. A new kind of presentation that has come forth specially with young adults is an addiction to the mobile phone binge watching that we do in order to drown all of these voices and thoughts in our mind. We end up might mindlessly scrolling through social media or binge watching shows. This only further worsens the situation because we are not dealing with the thoughts but drowning them.
Students tend to get depressed and feel hopeless if they feel they aren’t probably ready for their exam. What advice would you give to students who are trying to find hope during this crucial time?
Dr. Prakamya Singal: It is not the absence of depression that is going feel healthy. The spectrum of mental health means that we are able to feel all emotion but in a graded manner. In a manner where we can tolerate these emotions and we are not overwhelmed by these emotions. Certain level of tension, anxiety and fear is acceptable during this time. We need to focus more on our coping mechanism to able to overtake or overcome these emotions, having a good support system like our family member and over friends. Taking care our diets in these schedule. Not engaging negative thoughts and overcome repeating these and gratitude. It’s important for student recognise certain Red flag sign, which is when they should be seeking professional medical health what can do Red flag sign look like if they are constantly feeling do even they are trying distract with themselves things usually meet them happy, that is able to come out darkness.If the society adlation is consentantly over powering the thoughts that unable to focus on there exam or preparation just sleep cycle converters unable to feel not having antique food ,their unable to take care for them self. If all of these things are happen then that is time to see medical preparation case.
They are so many people including student who can’t affording to the therapist. So what can be there best way or practical and effective way which one use to help themselves to get out of this darkness?
Dr. Prakamya Singal: Number one the Red flag sign and that we definitely need seek professional medical help. When we talk about feedback we trying to use physical sensory stimuli. To tell our body are safe, uncomfortable space right now. We sending single to our mind to write now tell us nothing to be scared of , and that things are fine like a good massage, listening good music ,having good food using sensory stimuli tell herself everything is fine smoother overcel . Engaging these healthy activities it is work. Daily 30 minute or 15 minute engaging physical activity absolutely important be engage physical activity running or yoga or any kind of exercise . They help us to deal with the depression and anxiety the help us in releasing the good chemical and it helps to maintain our concentration to maintain our mood so 30 minute of these exercise absolutely important. Taking care of diet not engaging to much tea or coffee and not taking junk food having healthy fruits healthy vegetables that important. When we have feels of anxiety the consequences that we end up engaging the entire day thoughts which makes lose our confidence and we feel unproductive. But with practice but we can do train our brain to push this thoughts to a certain time period in a day if I know that I am started 9 to 5 entire day after that I am taking break so I train my brain to say right now it’s time to study to all of these thought and we said this thought and I am talk to myself. So it’s helps conservative and when something is right there is front of his able to rationalise it better and talk is out ourselves is better. Supportive group of member, it might be family member friend circle colleagues anyone have support through using them to entertain yourself engaging to in happy activity.
We need to train our brain. it takes 40 days to change our mind or pattern. How far this is true?
Dr. Prakamya Singal: It is true but not all the cases some of this is cases and environmental factor that might be the able to change our habits in 40 days or not. Consultancy is yes very important I do myself believe in practice to main perfect. anxiety charactersically within the future in the past mindfulness is trying to train again just train the present so it has various exercises. But practice yes might change that.