Who's NOT stressed?

Anita Anandarajah 

"STRESS?! What does a 16-year-old know about STRESS?! "They have no credit card bills, no car instalments, no taxes to pay, mouths to feed..." Bah. What do grown-ups know? Surely they have forgotten! Having to balance five projects with the same deadline for school can prove to be a burden for third formers who will also be sitting for the PMR examination in October. "Perhaps we bring it upon ourselves," said Krystle Wong, 15. "I'm usually too lazy to do it on time, and rush like mad at the eleventh hour," she said cheekily. Matthew Gerald Sahayan, 21, laments about his lack of freedom, an oft-cited complaint. His parents imposed a midnight curfew when college commenced last month. Before the curfew, Matthew would crawl home as late as 4am.

"I feel left out now. I know how to make it up to my parents though. I did rather poorly in my A-levels, and they 'quarantined' me. I'll prove that I'm responsible in the next exam. Meanwhile, it's stressing me out not to be able to join my friends," he said.

Sebastian Fashiono, 20, faces a different set of stress-inducing problems. His parents are separated. He refuses to dwell on that issue.

He is currently balancing work and study -he is a programme co-ordinator at a private college while pursuing a distance-learning programme. "My biggest problem is managing time. I'm at work up to 10pm some nights, and make an appearance on weekends too." According to consultant psychologist Paul Jambunathan, today's young people are more stressed out. "They are hardly the architects of their own time. There is less emphasis on extra-curricular activities within the school syllabus. Kids have to stay back after a full day at school to participate in these activities. "Young people are made to excel because of their parents' expectations. They become high achievers at the expense of their childhood. And a survey I conducted showed that Malaysian parents spend less than 10 minutes a day with their kids." It's no wonder then that we've become a bunch of stressed kitty cats! But how does one cope with stress? At a recent seminar organised by the Befrienders, designed to help students cope with stress, Jambunathan helped many a stressed student the way he knew best -with laughter. While some came prepared with an exercise book and pen in hand, he came armed with funny anecdotes. "You can't avoid stress unless you're dead." According to him, the key to living with stress is coping. "We can't avoid stress by consuming tablets, running away or hoping things will change overnight. Solely believing in God isn't going to help you avoid it either. Spiritual belief will give you strength, but God will not come down and slap the teacher who's giving you a hard time!" Here are a few handy tips that were shared: 1. Develop interpersonal skills.

If someone is upsetting you, explain to that person that you are hurt. "Don't call me an idiot - who got the better score in the last exam?" Learn how to deal with all sorts of people.

2. Learn to think skilfully.

Think of HOW to deal with the problem at hand. Explore a few options.

3. Reaction. Learn from the past, and apply it to the present.

4. Emotions. Be aware of your emotions and that of others.

5. Stay healthy! If our immune system weakens, we will be more prone to the common cold, ulcers and thrush. Does this scenario sound familiar? You stayed up till 3am cramming for the exam, and you've got a 9am paper. You're sleepy, you can't concentrate. "What you have to do is settle into a routine one to two months before the exam so that your sleep and waking times are automatic. Your body will cruise nicely, your muscles won't tense and your bowels won't get clogged up." Jambunathan suggests that young people maintain a personal stress log to chart episodes of stress. Note the day, time, event, what you did, your distress level (rate on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest), how you felt and your physical response. This way you can detect a pattern and hopefully find the source of your problems. Your psychologist will certainly thank you! Let's say you know what's getting your goat. You want to make a change. If you're thinking of improving your current state, Jambunathan has some suggestions.

1. Effect your changes in small steps. Change one thing at a time. Going cold turkey on football, television and music and flinging yourself onto your workload will probably cause you to lose steam midway.

2. Have clear and specific attainable goals. Come up with an action plan.

3. Find a support person, a friend or family member you can always count on.

4. Expect failures and relapses.

5. Be positive! However, if you feel you can't do it alone, the friendly people at Befrienders are always ready to lend an ear. You can also turn to your peer counsellors or teachers at school. Good luck!