Taking the stress out of exams

16th May 2017

The middle of May signals the start of the most stressful period of the year for many teenagers across the UK. External academic exams are the culmination of many months and years of hard work and it can sometimes feel that a teenager's whole future is at stake.

Mental health of our young people is an urgent concern. How can we help students cope with the pressures of exams? Here are my five top tips for surviving the exam season:

1) Keep calm and carry on! Exam stress can be built up by school, teachers, family members, friends and the media. Often students are their worst critics. Of course we want students to do their best but not with a success-at-all-costs approach. Students are influenced by the vibes we send out and the more balanced we can be, particularly now, the better for their psychological wellbeing. Listen to your children, give them space and understand their concerns. Help them to see the bigger picture and appreciate life is not all about exams whilst focussing on doing their best.

2) Keep using school! Go to teachers for help and reassurance. Teachers often have a little more free time during these summer months, so they can offer revision and exam advice. Use school as a place to revise. Home can often be more tense at this time of the year so it is important that school remains an oasis of calm. Students should have the option of staying in school for study leave, after all the teachers are there, so why not give the student every opportunity to prepare adequately and focus without distractions?

3) Get some sleep! Students should be getting enough quality sleep - the NHS recommends teenagers get 9 hours a night. Keep caffeine to a minimum, have a bedtime routine and keep bedrooms free from electronic devices. One in five teens wakes in the night to send messages or check social media, causing fatigue and reducing performance and wellbeing.

4) Keep moving! Researchers at the University of Essex recently found that mood and self esteem improve after just five minutes of exercise in a green space. Help combat stress by taking regular cardiovascular exercise to get the heart pumping and raise endorphins for a natural mood boost. Whether it's peaceful yoga or ultimate spin, walking the dog or a solitary swim, any exercise will help alleviate stress.

5) Eat well! Try not to binge on comforting carbs, but aim for a Mediterranean diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts for increased energy levels, concentration and health. Research by Kansas State University shows that children are more likely to eat green vegetables when they eat with adults so use it as an excuse to get together around the table to eat, laugh and relax and forget about those exams for an hour or so.