How to Manage Anxiety and Stress Before Exams

This is the time of year when our teenagers undergo most stress when preparing for Junior and Leaving cert exams.  As a result we as parents often become stressed too, and so the stress spirals.

Here are eight ways which can help your children de-stress, which will then help them access the information they already know.

1: Prepare: write a list each day of the priorities for that day and tick each one off whenever complete. This gives a sense of control, which allows them to feel satisfaction at the end of each day.

2: Organise: clear the desk. Over the years, we have found that students who present with exam stress, often have a chaotic desk. This leads to difficulties in focussing on one thing at a time so tasks are left unfinished and stress builds up. To relieve this stress it is useful for the student to select the subject, take out the books required, do the study or work and return the books before taking out the next subject. This allows the brain to focus on one thing at a time.

3: Work Sensibly: it is sometimes felt that if the student is at their desk all evening, they are being productive. But the human brain can only stay focussed for limited periods of time. So build in breaks every 20-30 minutes during the study period, away from the desk. These breaks only need to be 5 minutes at a time. This helps clear the mind and allows the student to come back refreshed and therefore focus for longer. If the student learns by listening, have them speak out loud and have music playing, this will facilitate them activate their primary way of taking in information. If they move a lot, let them walk around while studying, if they are extroverted group study is useful, if introverted studying quietly in their room helps. Don’t assume that the way you studied will necessarily work for your child, find out the best way for them.

4: Elicit Support: if your student is under pressure, it is useful if they have someone to talk to. This may be someone who has gone through the experience of exams before and can normalise the worries. Every human needs validation and having someone on your side takes the sense of isolation and stress away.

5: Re-assess: write a list of what is within your control and what is outside your control. Then move through the list and see what actions you might take to work on what is within your control. Then examine what is outside your control and see if there is anything you can do about these issues. Do you need support, do you need to ask for help, do you need to let someone know about this issue? Often people leave issues too long before bringing them to the attention of someone who can actually do something about them. But remember even if something is outside your control, you still have control over how you let it affect you.

6: Finish what you start: finish each task as you go along. If we leave lots of tasks unfinished, they stay in our minds and then our focus is divided. So where feasible complete each task as quickly as possible and put it away.

7: Unload: this is a mental decision. Each evening find a physical spot where you can mentally leave the work sitting safely (this may be the garden, or a tree you can see from your window), you can pick it up next morning before school. This takes a little practice, but you will find after a few weeks you will do it automatically. This will give your head a rest from the stress and develop a very useful tool for the future in the workplace.

8: Live with balance: we work to live not live to work, so find some balance. Enjoy loved ones, they are the important people in your life. Take daily exercise, this keeps you fit and healthy and releases endorphins which help to de-stress. Eat well and often, we need nourishment to work to our best. Have fun, meet with friends, relax, listen to music, happy fulfilled people function much better in life and school.