By Louisa Li (16A13A) and Md Khairillah (16A01B)
Interview by Adelyn Tan (16A01E) and Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E)
Around campus, two sights are familiar to all: that of the Rafflesian studying, and that of the Rafflesian trying to study. Raffles Press speaks to counsellors Kah Hwee and Mei Hui for tips on how to navigate a school life constantly marred by abject and inevitable stress, as well as the support available when we feel overwhelmed by it.
Stress is the common denominator among all teenagers: Kah Hwee stressed that “the teenage years are a developmental stage, and it can result in high emotional intensity.” Most teenagers go through similar issues, if communal moaning about problems in general teenager linguo is anything to go by. What does differ however, is the intensity of the issues we undergo, coming down to our individual capacities to adjust and manage the changes. Someone who lacks stable and effective stress management mechanisms may be better off with external help, which is of course no indictment on one’s personality or disposition. Requiring more support and help to build the skills needed to stay mentally healthy is wholly understandable, and encouragingly, something which our counsellors have plenty to say on.
First and foremost, mental wellness is a skill, not just a state of being. Mental wellness, as an extension, provides a support structure for dealing with stressors when they come. As Mei Hui puts it, “You’ll be able to handle them better; you’ll be more adaptable; you have more resources on hand and they’re less likely to cause a mental illness.”
Such support structures include having a good social network to manage the stress in your life, and leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle. To that end, you should ensure that there are constant positives in your life; the smallest pleasures and interests can often reap enormous benefits and leave you with a feeling of ease and comfort. Basic physiological needs for instance are unexpectedly important: our sedentary lifestyles mean that we don’t get enough sleep, eat well enough or exercise enough. Our bodies are created to work, and movement is a way of countering and managing the stress built up in the body over a period of time. A lot of things can slip in the long run if we don’t pay attention to these things.
Apart from building support structures to ensure that you remain healthy, helping your friends by listening to them is important too. Rather than needing people to outright ‘solve their problems from the get-go,’ people often ‘just need to vent and feel like they’re being cared for.’ As friends, our focus needs to shift from solving people’s problems to understanding these problems from their own perspective; Kah Hwee mentions that just being there “can actually go a long way in helping people feel better and they might realize they don’t need anything beyond that.”
However, Kah Hwee cautions against being the only supporter and carrying the burden yourself. Expanding the support network by bringing another good friend in would ensure that your friend doesn’t become over-dependent on you – you should think about taking care of yourself as well. “If not,” Kah Hwee jokes, what ensues are “phone calls at midnight and texting till 3am.”
The last people that teenagers would ever think of turning to would ironically be their parents, as “the relationship between a lot of teens and their parents can be very complicated”. Growing up is the process of finding your own identity, and many teenagers tend to drift apart from their parents. Nevertheless, your parents are still the ones who brought you up all these years; they do care about you. Mei Hui qualifies that the “majority of the parents we speak to genuinely love and care for their children. It may be hard for teenagers to see that now, but whatever happens, they’re still your family. If one parent is unsupportive, try talking to the other!”
Other than your friends and family, support is also readily available in school. Kah Hwee recommends coming down to speak to the counsellors, or talking to your teachers if you’re comfortable with it. If the situation worsens and you suspect that you might have a mental illness, the counsellors can also administer screeners, and talk to you to get a sense of whether or not you display enough symptoms to warrant a diagnosis. “We can take you through the whole process. For students who are afraid to speak to their parents about it, we could also invite their parents to come down and have a chat.”
This Keep Calm week, try your hand at some of the fun activities in the canteen, while learning about how to deal with a bevy of life crises. Don’t wait for one to happen before you start worrying about stress management!