Sunday, 8 March 2015

Q & A for the parents of exam going students: T2 Article dated 22nd Feb'2015

In the past few weeks, there has been a surge of anxious parents in our clinic. The board exams are near, parents are worried and the kids are edgy. Many of them are taking a board exam for the first time. For many parents, too, it's their first experience. We have tried to answer a few questions that we have received in this context.

Q: I have a daughter who is appearing for her Class X exams.
She studies with the help of a couple of tuitions and gets decent marks. However, she cries a lot during exam time and everytime she says she's going to flunk.
She's our only daughter, and both my husband and I feel helpless during her exams. Sometimes we feel she is having a nervous breakdown and we really don't know what to do.

We understand that your daughter shows this kind of behaviour during all her exams, yet she gets decent marks. Assuming that this has been her standard behaviour and despite this has ended up with decent marks, both you and your husband can calm down.
Understand that though her crying and anxiety may be stemming from a genuine concern about her performance, she is not yet able to gauge the degree of her preparation.
This is something that many children go through.
As a parent, you need to give them space to vent, yet at the same time, gently bring their focus back to the job at hand. Later, after the exams, take this up with your daughter and let her know that she doesn't have to panic as much as she does. You may also consider taking professional help from a counsellor to help your daughter break this behavioural pattern.
But at this eleventh hour, any effort to try and change her can backfire.
So for the time being, stay calm and be there for your daughter with words of positive encouragement. Be gentle, and not forceful, to help her stay on track. Try not to sound as if you are trivialising the matter and be available for her when she rants, like when she says she's going to fail. Tell her calmly that she just needs to focus on her exam, not the marks. In your mind tell yourself this is just a phase and she will take the exam and perform just as she has done before.

Q: My son is appearing for his board exams. We feel he is not studying enough. He's always been very sharp but lazy. During this last leg of preparation, when his classmates are studying 12- 16 hours, he studies a maximum of 8- 10 hours. He sleeps during the day for a couple of hours and takes frequent breaks while studying. His five- minute breaks invariably turn into 15 minutes and if we try to push him, he gets angry, sulks and does not study for the next few hours. The atmosphere in the house becomes tense.
How do we encourage him to study more so that he can perform according to his potential? 

In this last leg of preparation, it is important that your son stays mentally and emotionally healthy. Anger, bitterness and a feeling of being pressured can be counter- productive.
We all learn, store and recall information differently. Our ability to focus and how we make an effort varies from person to person, much like our intelligence.
The ability to focus for more than an hour at a time is a learnt behaviour; it requires practice and time.
Given that your son is just about to take his board exams, this may not be the best time to ask him to change his study pattern. You can remind him gently, and with positive words, to reduce the duration of his breaks.
As far as the sleeping goes, a child needs seven to eight hours of sleep for him/ her to perform optimally, to remember and recall better. It is during our sleep time that our memories are formed. So let him get his rest.
It is difficult to stay calm when you see your child is not performing as best as he can. But be patient and calm. Having conflicts at this time is not going to help either him or you.
In the rush to push your child to be the best, do not harm your relationship with him.
We wish all the best to our young readers for their upcoming exams.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com

Appraisal, Cognition,Impulse, Action: Understanding our emotions : T2 Article dated 8th March, 2015

When we feel something strongly, most of the time our awareness stays in the causality of the external factors. We tend to believe that the genesis of an emotion is automatic, uncontrollable and due to external situations, like other people's behaviour or the loss of a loved one or a job. But psychologists like Paul Ekman, who study human emotions extensively, believe that there are many steps before the genesis of an emotion and there are a few crucial steps where, if we are aware, can actually intervene and change the way we feel.
Rubina, in her 30s, came heartbroken.
She was feeling betrayed and cheated by her husband. Here is an excerpt from the first session... 

Rubina: I am feeling very angry and hurt by my husband.
Therapist: Yes, I can see that you are very hurt. Would you like to share what happened? 
Rubina: Doctor, one thing I can't stand is when people lie to me. And yesterday I found out that my husband was lying to me.
Therapist: I see. You found out he was lying? 
Rubina: Yes, I found that he was hiding the truth.
Therapist: Would you like to elaborate? 
Rubina: At an office party, there was this girl in his office who, I felt, was hitting on my husband. When I asked him about it around three months back, he just brushed it aside and behaved as if it was the most improbable thing he had ever heard.
But yesterday I came to know that the girl had confessed her feelings for my husband to a friend of hers. It has become office gossip and my husband also knows about it.
Therapist: So you are hurt that your husband did not acknowledge his knowledge about this girl's feelings, to you.
Rubina: Yes. I am very sure that my husband has no feelings for her. He is incapable of having an affair. But I am hurt that he hid that information from me.
Therapist: How are you sure that your husband knew about it? 
Rubina: Yesterday there was another get- together of his office colleagues and they were joking about how my husband was avoiding meeting the girl in the office for the past six- seven months.
Therapist: Could it be that your husband was embarrassed, or maybe he just did not want to make you feel insecure? 
Rubina: Maybe.... But the bottomline is that he pretended as if I was being ridiculous by suggesting that this girl was eyeing him. I feel I have lost my trust in him.
Therapist: So, is it the trust in your husband which is broken, or is it the belief that he would never hide anything from you which is broken? 
Rubina: I think it's my belief that he would never hide anything from me that is broken. I am angry at myself that I thought he would always be truthful to me. I know it's silly but it's important to me. With anybody else, it wouldn't have mattered but I can't take lies from people who are close to me.

Let's understand what really happened to Rubina. Rubina attends her husband's office party and notices a girl, let's say Riti, who was paying a lot of attention to her husband. Her mind evaluates the situation and it creates the... 
First appraisal: "Riti is attracted to my husband". She goes and talks to her husband about it but he just plays it down.
Rubina's mind generates the... 
Second appraisal: " My husband does not know about it." After a few months, she comes to know that her husband knew this for quite some time, and her mind generates the... 
Third appraisal: " My husband deceived me and my second appraisal was wrong." Which is in direct conflict with her 
Rule: " I should not be wronged or deceived, especially by people who are close to me." This conflict gives rise to an emotion, which is the feeling of anger and betrayal, and these emotions give rise to an impulse, say in this case, the impulse to confront the husband. This impulse may lead to an action, such as the act of screaming at the husband and storming out of the house. Ekman says if one is really watchful of his/ her mind, there are three levels of awareness which are possible to observe: Appraisal awareness, impulse awareness and action awareness.

If we are aware, we can intervene and change the course of emotion generation by challenging and changing the appraisal or controlling the impulse and therefore choosing to feel differently and act differently.
It is possible to deconstruct an emotion and eliminate its effect if we can change the appraisal, and mend the conflicting rules through our awareness.
Sometimes there are agendas we aren't aware of to hold on to the pain and hurt as well. Consider the case of If we are aware, we can intervene and change the course of emotion generation

Rosaline, who was going through a separation.
Rosaline: Doctor, the exercise you gave me was very helpful. I understand that my husband cheated on me and it makes sense to move on as that person does not deserve me. However, I am noticing that I am not ready to let go of the pain and hurt. If I let go of my pain, I would trivialise my five years of time and effort with this man.
Somehow I'm afraid of devaluing a chunk of my life.
Therapist: So, you feel that you are giving value, worth and meaning to the time you have spent together by holding on to the pain.
Rosaline: Yes! Otherwise it is so meaningless. I know I can let go of this pain but I am holding on to it.
Funny, isn't it? 

Before Rosaline can work on her pain and hurt she needs to understand the hidden cognition and reason behind her holding on to her pain. " I need to suffer to give value and meaning to my experience" is her unaware cognition behind the pain. If Rosaline wants to be happy, she needs to first let go this cognition and accept that may be the last five years were not of as much value as she thought it was, and that it is okay. Here also, the self- awareness is the first step for her to reach that acceptance.

(All names and details have been changed) 

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
 dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com