Learning Curve: relieve anxiety the Hindu way

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 10:33am

Exam stress and anxiety regarding results are part and parcel of being a student. While anxiety can be a driving force, it is more often an incapacitating factor in exam preparation.

In my experience, a student's anxiousness stems from the seemingly insurmountable list of things that need to be done during exam preparation and doubts about being unable to complete them.

This leads to poor exam preparation, which then lays the foundation for a fear of failure. Students who are prone to procrastination seem to experience more anxiety.

I find students expend more mental energy thinking about all the things they need to get done than in actually doing them. Because anxiety is agitation of the mind, the value of meditation in clearing the mind of clutter and making it more receptive to learning is well known. Common sense dictates that one cannot add to a full pot.

New research from the University of California, Los Angeles Laboratory of Neuro Imaging also suggests that people who meditate show more grey matter in certain regions of the brain, show stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy. Presumably, then, the more folding that occurs, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth.

Lead researcher Professor Eileen Luders says: "It appears to be a powerful mental exercise with the potential to change the physical structure of the brain."

While there is no dearth of information and self-help strategies, when students ask how they can deal with exam anxiety and fear of failure, I am reminded of two verses from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita, , which is often seen as an allegory of the moral struggles of the human condition.

Whenever I have used Chinmayananda's translation and commentary of this epic Sanskrit poem to explain the basis of success, students have been open to the logic in the ideas that are encapsulated in the following two verses.

Students grasp the danger to the crops if a farmer wastes his chances to sow and plough at the right time

Chapter II, verse 41: " ... there is but a single-pointed determination; many-branched are the thoughts of the irresolute." Labouring under endless desires for results fragment their focus, and with a shattered, thousand-pronged mind, they are unable to consistently apply themselves to any line of action; so they fail.

Verse 47 is one of the best-known verses of the Gita: "Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be thy motive, not let thy attachment be to inaction."

Chinmayananda explains that if it is success one seeks, then striving for it with a mind dissipated with anxieties and fear of the fruits will not lead to it. In fact, the action ends, or fulfils itself, only in its reaction. Therefore, to become preoccupied with anxieties for the sake of the rewards is to escape from the dynamic present and to live in the future.

Students grasp the logic that all they can control is the present, the opportunity to bring into the activity of studying all that is vested in them, and immersing themselves in it.

Because such inspired learning is certain to bear fruit, it therefore is its own reward.

Chinmayananda's analogy that tomorrow's harvest depends on today's ploughing and sowing is seldom lost on students. They understand the danger to the crops if a farmer wastes his present chances to sow and plough carefully at the right time.

Helping students understand that the fear of failure is a common human condition that precludes all of us from undertaking great activities does inspire them to work at their best without dissipating their mental energy. This results in success.

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School