Featured image. Children completing exams

How To Cope With Exam Stress & Anxiety

With mock A Levels and GCSEs just around the corner, with the majority of timetables around the country beginning on May 11th and finishing on or around June 19th, you may well be experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety already when you think about the sheer amount of work that lies ahead of you over the next few months.

Research published last month (February) by the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Public Health Agency, in conjunction with the National Children’s Bureau, found that extreme pressure to achieve at school is one of the biggest threats to mental health, with increasing levels of anxiety and self-harm being seen – even among younger students, the BBC reports.

The study noted that while some pressure at exam time can be helpful and is normal, many students are now faced with extreme pressure to achieve and this can have a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing.

“The extreme pressure to achieve academically is coming from schools, parents and children and young people themselves, and is linked to increasing competition for university places and employment, as well as the current system of ranking schools solely based on academic performance,” it observed.

Comments from pupils and teachers were included in the report, which went into detail about one particular student who put so much pressure on himself to get ten A* grades in his exams that he viewed himself as a failure when he got an A, which “left him in significant distress”.

If you are feeling anxious or stressed and think it’s starting to become overwhelming and unmanageable, it’s important that you speak to someone immediately so this can be addressed. You don’t need to go through it alone and the good news is that there is a lot you can do to give your mental health a boost, even during stressful exam periods.

Mindfulness is something you or your parents could start looking into, as this has been proven to really help with conditions like anxiety, stress and depression. It’s all about anchoring yourself in the present moment by focusing on your breathing. 

This slows your mind down and helps to calm any negative thoughts and feelings you may be experiencing, so you’re better able to deal with what’s bothering you in a proactive and constructive way. You may well find you revise a lot better after practicing mindfulness for a few minutes each day.

It’s also important that you don’t neglect other areas of your health. You may be feeling a rising wave of panic at the thought of approaching exams and it may be tempting to stay up all night and revise, but you need to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep consistently week in, week out in order to operate at maximum effectiveness. Eat well, sleep well and get some exercise – you’ll thank yourself for it in the end.

A bit of self-belief will work wonders, as well. It can be very easy to judge ourselves when faced with new challenges. After all, we have no idea how we’re going to respond and how well we’re going to do – but if you tell yourself over and over again that you can’t do it, this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Parental involvement can also make a huge difference to a young person’s performance at school. The right support and encouragement, and showing the right kind of interest, can have a real and long-lasting impact, potentially affecting your child throughout their entire lives.

Working to build confidence in teens can also yield very positive results, so strive to always offer praise instead of criticism. Everyone benefits from praise and it really can give us a serious lift, adding value to our self-esteem – and doing wonders for our confidence!

Cast your mind back to what it was like as a teenager – it can be a really difficult time, even without exam stress and anxiety, so it’s important to support your children through difficult times, provide them with coping strategies and helping them to work out their identity and find a place in the world.