Home ParentingEducation The Final Sprint: Five steps to mental wellbeing in matric

The Final Sprint: Five steps to mental wellbeing in matric

by Zahid Jadwat

Maintaining good mental health will positively impact your grades. [Picture: iStock]


Cape Town’s Sea Point Promenade is a hive of activity, morning, noon and evening. Locals and tourists alike frequently flock to the promenade along shores of the glistening Atlantic Ocean to take a break from the bustle of everyday life. It is also where Alex van Der Merwe comes to soothe his nerves.

“Taking a morning jog on the Sea Point promenade is one of my favourite things to do,” says 17-year-old Alex van Der Merwe from Cape Town. “It’s a beautiful location, the sea air is refreshing and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks is very calming.”

Van der Merwe, like hundreds of thousands of others, is currently in Grade 12. This is the final year of his high school career and the effort he puts into it determines where he will go next year – quite possibly the rest of his life. For him, “maintaining sound mental health amidst the chaos of it all is a top priority”.

It is true. A common habit – a toxic one, at that – amongst teenagers in high school is to try to focus solely on their studies. All else falls to the wayside. Hours upon hours are spent pouring over stacks of textbooks and hastily munching in between. But this is dangerous, and the end result is less-than-desired results and a mental wreck.

What if you could pay attention to high school and still keep your mental health in shape? It would most certainly deliver better dividends. “Numerous studies have found that improving mental wellbeing increases concentration and reduces the overall negative effects that happen when you don’t,” Alex quips.


1. Get moving!

Action is what spurs results. Always. And that is no less the case for studying than for anything else. Exercise can be a life-changing habit by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It is also said to improve self-esteem and cognitive function, priming you for better performance in matric.

“I think it’s important to exercise regularly because it helps to keep both the mind and body healthy. By starting my day with a jog, I feel more focused and energised for the rest of the day. It’s also a great way to clear my mind and think about any upcoming tasks or challenges that I may be facing,” says Alex.


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2, Cut the caffeine

Alex is wary of Cape Town’s thriving, vibrant and eclectic coffee culture. The powerful drink is often associated with all-nighters and study sessions. It definitely does give an energy boost, but it also comes with more than its fair share of side effects.

“I would say that I do drink coffee occasionally,” Alex admits, “but I try not to rely on it too heavily as I am aware of its drawbacks. Instead, I usually opt for green tea, which provides a more subtle and sustained boost of energy and focus without the jitters or other negative side effects that can come with excessive coffee consumption.”


3. Cut the work, let’s take a break!

No, we are not talking about 10 minutes of studying and then 50 minutes giggling over the latest TikTok challenge. We are talking about a more effective balance between studying and resting.

We are talking about the Pomodoro Technique. Twenty-five minutes on, five minutes off.

Says Alex, “I find that this technique helps me to stay focused and productive while studying. It prevents me from getting overwhelmed or distracted and helps to keep me motivated, as I can see myself making progress with each completed Pomodoro cycle.

Developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique takes advantage of the fact that the average human’s attention span is only about 20 minutes long. The benefits of this method include increased accountability, decreased back pain and mental fatigue, as well as consistent motivation.


4. Overwhelmed? Speak to someone


Our lives have reached near-peak level connectivity. We just pull out our phones and we can speak to people on the other end of this small space rock. Except that this is a superficial connection. That is why it remains important to speak to a friend, family member or a therapist who can help you when your studies become overwhelming.

“When I feel overwhelmed, I usually talk to my friend Lisa,” says Alex. “My friends and family are a great source of support and understanding. They provide valuable advice and encouragement. Additionally, I also sometimes talk to a mental health professional”.


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5. Get some shut-eye

Sleep is often sacrificed most of all. Every night, millions of students all over decide to completely massacre this sacred biological necessity. They think a few cups of coffee will keep them powered through the night so they can be prepared for tomorrow’s test.

But this takes a knock at one’s mental health, offsetting any gains from the inhuman exercise. After being awake for 16 hours, the brain begins to slow down and experience cognitive impairment. That is why it is best to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern that gives you no less than seven hours of shut-eye.

Alex again, “To ensure that I get enough sleep, I usually try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. I also try to avoid using my phone or computer for at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, I might read a book to help me unwind and prepare for sleep”.

Maintaining a healthy state of mind should most definitely be one of the top priorities of any student, but it is commonly ignored. By preserving our mental health, we improve concentration, reduce anxiety and have more space to work on our grades. It involves an all-round effort, but pays off well.

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