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Teen Tips on Exam Stress

In this increasingly competitive world the pressure on pupils to do well in public exams is enormous – exams are the scourge of adolescence and thus it has ever been.  Perhaps what is different now is that it is all played out in the public arena.  On results day the press is full of joyful teens leaping around wafting certificates.  The schools tweet about their “outstanding” results within minutes of them being released and those whose exams have been a car crash must feel very alone in their misery and shame.

Statistics show that rates of self harm and suicide peak in the exam season whether that is in the run up to the exams or the release of the results.  As parents we need to help our children view the exam process with a sense of balance and that means keeping our own anxiety in check.  If we are of the view that exam failure leads to failure in life, imagine what kind of atmosphere we will create.  If we are overly anxious we will give them the message that we don’t think they are capable which will do little to boost their confidence.

When my kids were little I used to tell them that exams existed to check their teachers were doing a good job.  As they got older the message was, exams exist to open doors.  The better you do the more doors you get to choose from but behind every door is an opportunity so, relax and know that you are worth far more than any collection of certificates you might achieve along the way.

Help them consider what success would look like for them so that they can see the point of putting in effort and, as the year progresses keep repeating the message, “these exams will come and they will go & whatever happens you will be ok but please do what you need to do now to ensure you have no regrets”.

Good food is essential for cognitive function so make sure they get a rich and varied diet and plenty to drink as even mild dehydration reduces concentration.  For more on nutrition and its importance in brain function, check out our two-part Teens & Nutrition Podcast on our Resources page.

Sometimes teenagers find sleep difficult around exam time.  Warm milky drinks not only help us get to sleep they also help us stay hydrated through the night and the fat and protein help our brains assimilate and absorb information.

Exercise is also vital for good sleep, for the relief of stress and for reenergising our brains.   All too often teenagers try to get out of sport to spend extra time revising but it is counterproductive – help them understand that getting outside & exercising is important for peak cognitive performance.

For all teenagers the exam season is likely to be a little stressful but it can be helpful for them to understand that stress is not always bad – in small measures for a short time it gets us through life’s challenges.  Once an exam finishes let them talk it through and remember that they are likely to focus on what didn’t go so well rather than what did, so don’t panic.

We hope you found these tips helpful. Eager for more? Sign up to our newsletter and keep up to date with our latest podcasts, films and blog posts on adolescent mental health.

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