Exam stress or anxiety is experienced by many children as they worry about upcoming exams, whether they will do well, according to their own or others expectations and what happens next.
Children may not talk about feeling ‘stressed’ but may show signs of it by excessively worrying, having difficulties sleeping, being more irritable, eating too much or too little, having loss of pleasure and motivation, feeling tense, having headaches or stomach pains and feeling low and tearfulness.
How to deal with exam stress and anxiety
Exam stress or anxiety is a normal reaction to the situation and once exams finish stress levels will reduce. To cope with exam stress here are some helpful tips.
1. Talk to others
Whilst it’s not always easy to, people often say that when they talk to others this enables them to gain perspective on situations, get good advice or sometimes helps to just offload. Try and pick the right person, a friend, teacher or parent who you think will be sympathetic and will listen to you. Choose a good time to try to talk to them, preferably not when they are busy. Send them a text first, if this helps to break the ice and start the conversation.
2. Manage worries
Often when we are anxious our worries will include catastrophic thinking, were we assume that the worse will happen. I.e. I will fail all of my exams, not get into college and my life will be ruined forever. Try to learn to get better at spotting when you are worrying and make a decision not to go there, because it only makes you more anxious.Try and refocus on what you were or should be doing.
Another technique might be to ask yourself ‘Do I have any actual evidence that my fear will or has come true, or is this just a worry’? Remember that prior to the exam you haven’t taken it yet and after the exam there’s nothing you can do about it now, so let worries go. If worries feel difficult to manage on your own try and talk to someone who can help.
When we are stressed it is important to take care of ourselves, this includes what we eat and drink. Try and keep you blood sugar levels steady and drink plenty of water. Try not to skip meals and avoid very high fat, caffeine and sugary foods and drinks as these tend to make us feel nervy and on edge. Perhaps have some healthy snacks to hand as you revise, such as nuts or fruit.
Sleep is crucial to how we think and perform in the day and affects out concentration. Try and keep to a regular routine of getting up and going to bed. Most teenagers sleep for 8-10 hours per night. Don’t have your bedroom too hot, ideally around 18.5C as this helps us to sleep. Make sure that you have a wind down time before going to bed, to allow your brain to switch off. Perhaps watch TV, read a book, speak with a friend, or do some relaxation. Avoid using computers, tablets, game consoles and your Smartphone in the hour before you go to bed, as the blue light from the screens tells our brains that it is daytime and to stay awake. The occasional night of poor sleep is to be expected, but if poor sleep becomes a problem then seek help.
Exercise is a great stress-buster and boosts energy levels. Pick something you like, maybe with friends and make time for it.
6. Practice a breathing exercise
There are many techniques to choose from but a simple technique is to take a deep breath in then allow yourself to breath out in your own time. As you breathe out tell yourself, in your head, the word relax or smooth. Repeat this phrase every time you breathe out, allowing yourself to notice the in and the out breath. Carry on for as long as you like. If your mind wanders that’s ok, that’s what minds do and just bring yourself back to the out breathe. Try and practice this once a day for at least 5 minutes.
7. Have good study skills
Find a good place to do your studying ideally somewhere that is quiet and where you feel calm. Get organised, have all your books to hand and draw up a study plan. Remember to plan in short breaks, as Psychologists say that our concentration deteriorates after 45 minutes. If topics seem overwhelming break them down into manageable chunks and vary topics to stop you from getting bored. Talk to teachers about exam techniques and plan for what you need to take with you on the exam day. Don’t forget to ask for help if you need advice or feel overwhelmed.
8. Time out from studying
Devise a study plan that allows you time away from studying, whether it be for meal breaks, exercising, relaxing and making time to see friends or family. Enjoy this time you deserve it.
9. Seek help if you need it
If you feel that anxiety and low mood is so severe that it is interferes with your ability to cope then don’t delay in talking to someone. Talk to your parents, teachers and go and see your GP. Your GP might recommend that you see a therapist who can help you to manage your stress levels more effectively. You could also talk to ChildLine in confidence by ringing them on 0800 1111
10. A word for parents
Exam time can be a challenging time for your child and may impact on family life overall so take this into consideration. Try to listen to your child and give support and avoid criticism. Try and be reassuring and positive and let them know that if they fail their exams it isn’t the end of the world and that you will support them. Have an interest in what they are doing and ask them if they want any help. Ask them how their exams went and help them to see the positives and plan for the next one. Perhaps try and give them some slack on chores and try and build treats into the revision timetable and rewards for when the exams are over.
Also have a look at Smiling Minds, the not for profit organisation that looks to bring mindfulness to all. Download their free app
I hope that you have found this blog helpful. I have a vested interest in this blog as my child is in the thick of GCSE revision so I have found it personally helpful to write it.
If you are struggling with exam stress, anxiety and depression, aged 15 or over and want to seek therapy then please have a look at our website at feelwelltherapy.co.uk and contact us.
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Wishing you good mental health
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