Most of us have an opinion about how much kids are tested in mainstream education, but whatever we might think, it’s a fact of life that children are examined more than ever before. Children are tested from an early age, and it’s easy for them to believe that passing exams is the be-all and end-all which sadly can cause stress, anxiety and depression at a very young age. Family members can also be negatively affected if their relative is struggling. Exam stress can also affect adults, as more and more people change career later on in life, go back to education or participate in continuous professional development.
Exam stress affects students in a number of ways. Some can seemingly breeze through tests and seem to handle things well, but can fall victim to stress in the weeks and months after a heavy exam period. Others break out in a sweat when it comes to revision, and experience a range of stress-related symptoms, which left untreated can lead to more serious mental health issues.
Here are some common symptoms of exam stress to look out for:
- Insomnia or difficulty waking up in the morning
- Increased anxiety or irritability
- Poor appetite
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Blurred vision
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Feeling anti-social or wanting to isolate
What are the best ways to deal with exam stress? Here are some hints and tips:
- Sleep well. Wind down before bed with a bath, a camomile tea and a non-exam related book. Avoid revising under the duvet. Keep the bedroom reserved for sleeping, not work.
- Exercise – it’s easy for kids to spend a lot of time revising and stop exercising during exam periods, which can lead to feeling more stressed. Planning in time for exercise within a revision timetable is a good idea.
- Don’t compare – when students compare their revision habits with their friends it can cause anxiety and stress. Everyone approaches revision in different ways, so it’s important to choose a method that works for the individual and make a realistic timetable.
- Eat well – eating healthily will provide more fuel for the body to keep going during stressful time. Avoid too much caffeine and junk food which can create blood sugar spikes and a subsequent crash.
- Panic attacks – it’s a good idea to learn a breathing technique if the panic starts to rise in an exam situation, like alternate nostril breathing or belly breathing. Count in for five and out for five.
- Recognise when you’re stressed out – learning to recognise your own warning signs means you can cope with stress much better when it hits (creating a stress toolkit can also help in difficult moments)
- Avoid the exam post-mortem – it’s not the best idea to discuss your answers afterwards, you can’t change things so it will just make you worry even more.
- Get things into perspective – yes exams are important, but health and wellbeing are way more important long-term.
- Be flexible – be attention to how you feel and be prepared to move around your timetable. Schedule in regular breaks (every twenty minutes) and arrange to do fun things after revision.
- Get outdoors – it’s easy to spend too much time indoors when we’re studying, so it’s important to get out in nature, listen to the birds singing and lie on the grass, especially in the summer.
I use an integrative approach to help people of all ages to cope better with stress and anxiety, using a combination of therapies tailored to bring you back into balance. If you are currently suffering from exam stress or are worried about someone who is struggling, please don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss how I can help. You can contact me here