The Essential Exam Stress Busting Guide for Parents
Exam season is a tough time in any family home. Emotions are running high and it can feel like a pressure cooker, with all sorts of things flying around. As a parent, grandparent, caregiver, you have hopes and aspirations for the young people that are important in your life. Those dreams are born at the moment they are born. When it comes down to it though, when asked, the thing that the majority of parents want more than anything is for their children to be happy. Seeing them anxious and stressed, and knowing that you can’t sit the exam for them or be in the exam hall with them can be really tough. But there are things that the adults in a stressed students life can do, to support them, and actually set them up for dealing with stressful situations throughout their adult life. Below are some strategies for you to try.
They need to know that you have got their back, whatever the outcomes.
Like a trapeze artist has a safety net under them, that allows them to safely perform at great heights, they need to know that they are still a person of great importance and value, regardless of what the results slip says. So often, as humans we get tangled up with believing that our actions define our value as a person. The greatest gift we can share with people that we love and care about, is to let them know that we love them as a person, not dependent on anything else. This is one of the key things that can enable someone to develop a healthy dose of self-belief and self-worth.
Be kind to yourself.
Don’t add extra pressure in the household, by expecting yourself to get it right as a parent the whole time. You may well make blunders, say something that triggers a nuclear reaction. That is normal. Keep yourself in check with this and try not to allow it to become a bigger issue than it needs to be. Accept it and move on from it.
When people get stressed the internal chatter everyone has, gets louder. Often it will be chatter that will be telling the student unhelpful phrases that make them doubt themselves, and feel like they can’t do it. Three of my favourite strategies that you can help your young person do (and do for yourself, they’ll improve your wellbeing too!)
- Affirmations. These are positive phrases that are said on a regular basis (ideally every morning, 3 times). They are like a positive team talk! They give the internal chatter, fresh, positive things to challenge the unhelpful stuff with. They need to be things that feel relatable, positive and present tense. Take a look at this blog for more tips on creating your own affirmations.
- Successes. Taking time to help your teen remember times when they have rocked it, will help to build their sense of belief in their abilities to get through the exams. It will be s great thing to come back to, when they need to regroup during a wobble.They might need you to drag this stuff out of them, especially if they are in a negative mindset. Before having this conversation with them, make sure you are prepared with some relevant examples, to remind them of.
- Gratitude. The human brain has a default to focus on the negative stuff, especially in times of stress and pressure. Taking time at the end of each day to notice things that have gone well, or that brought you some joy, or you feel for grateful, has long-lasting positive effects on your wellbeing and mindset. You can read more about gratitude here.
Physical Stress Busters
As with any form of stress, taking care of the physical health of your teen is as important as the mental wellbeing. The both are closely connected.
- Eating well. Encouraging them to eat a balanced range of foods throughout the day, that will maintain their energy levels, rather than reaching for the quick sugar fix options.
- Sleeping well. Some great tips for promoting healthier sleep is focused around the evening and morning routine. Research indicates that having 1.5 hour evening routine allows your body to gradually prepare for switching off, so that when the head hits the pillow it is more likely to sleep. Work out with your teen when they ideally want to be asleep by, and then work back. The 1.5 zone needs to become a protected time with no exam talk or prep and nothing stimulating (sugar, caffeine, devices, games). This is the time to do whatever hygiene routines (skin, teeth, bath) and putting on pj’s. In the morning, work out what time they need to be leaving the house, and set the alarm 1.5 hours earlier for a less stressful start to the day. Try to avoid a mad rush of alarm clock going off, jump out of bed and rush, rush, rush. This starts the body in a high alert mode, which leaves it more likely to respond stressfully throughout the morning.
- Get outdoors. There is so much research showing that stepping outside into nature, reduces the levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Even better if you can get them to some trees! Forest bathing is a brilliant way to reduce stress and depression. Even taking 5 minute breaks outside in the garden watching the clouds, or stepping outside barefoot and noticing how their feet feel, will be like pressing pause in their brains.
- Exercise. Making space in the study timetable for some regular exercise will boost the feel good hormones, and help regulate sleep and eating too. It needs to be something for fun and not another area to have pressure regarding performance.
If you’d love to get some resources that have been designed with your teen in mind, take a look here at the work of my colleague Leah, who works with teens to help them become their own best buddy
Good luck! And remember that as intense as this feels for you all right now, it is temporary, and you’ll all get through this together.