After a two-year break from “real” formally assessed exams, the upcoming exam period is sure to be more daunting than ever for the majority of secondary school and sixth form students across the UK.
At ACS International School Hillingdon, we’ve been working with our Upper School students to help manage their anxieties around sitting exams and develop practical strategies to ensure they are well-equipped for the challenges of the coming weeks, without their overall wellbeing being negatively impacted.
Here I’ve compiled six tips, rooted in mindfulness meditation, to help young people beat exam stress at this time of heightened anxiety:
1. Prioritize sleep
Sleep is essential for good recovery and growth, and good sleep is one of the most powerful ways students can protect themselves from stress and anxiety. During the sixth and eighth hour of our nightly sleep cycles, the parts of the brain which support the most powerful anti-depressant, serotonin, are built and rebuilt. But, if students do not get enough sleep, they can experience increased anxiety and irritability, as well as reduced alertness, concentration and, most importantly, academic performance.
How to: It is recommended that young people aged 16-18 get around eight to ten hours of sleep per night. If your teenager is struggling to get to sleep, encourage them to move their phones and gadgets away from their bed overnight and to minimize their social media activity in the run up to bedtime.
Getting up at the same time each morning and doing outside physical activity are also proven contributors to a good night’s sleep. The Teen Sleep Hub, by The Sleep Charity, is a useful resource for teens unable to get more than 40 winks.
2. Five Senses Drill for mid-exam panic
The “Five Senses Drill” is a simple and quick breathing exercise, which is also easy to remember in the heat of the moment. This drill is designed to help panic stricken students to focus on their immediate surroundings and keep calm in the event of a mid-exam stumbling block.
How to: Advise your teenager to take two deep breaths, then silently to note three things they see, hear, and feel and then note what they smell and taste, before finishing with two more deep breaths.
3. “Let-go” meditation
When stress kicks in, we take much shallower breaths, not using our full lung capacity and denying ourselves the full oxygen intake, which is essential for optimal working of the brain. “Let-go” meditation can help students to regain their breathing if they are feeling panicky.
How to: Advise your teenage to sit up with relaxed shoulders and rest their hands on the top of their stomach, fingers touching slightly. Then, inhaling through the nose, think “Let,” filling their lungs with air so that their fingers are at least an inch apart and, on the exhale, think “Go.” Advise students to repeat this sequence until their mind has cleared and refocused.
4. Exam pep talk
“Self-talk” techniques help to remind students what they have achieved and build self-belief.
How to: Encourage your teen to develop their very own positive mantra, such as “I am, I can, I will” or “I am ready” and advise them to repeat this phrase over a series of days and weeks, in order to drown out negative thoughts. If they hit a mental wall during exams, they should repeat the phrase in their head and then carry on with the task at hand.
Getting a pep talk from someone else can also be a good way to build positivity for exam day. Encourage teens to talk to their peers, family, teachers, and counsellors about exams and any concerns they are having and remind them there is nothing shameful about asking for help or advice, or simply having someone listen to and acknowledge what they’re going through. There is help everywhere, they just need to reach out.
5. Creative meditation
Ever wondered why adult coloring books are so popular? Spending just ten minutes a day on a creative activity, such as coloring intricate patterns, can help build students’ self-confidence and relieve revision pressure. Coloring is a form of meditation, creating a sense of rhythm, which the brain craves.
How to: Help your teenager to set aside some time in the day, perhaps before or after dinner time, or before bed, to focus on creative meditation.
6. Self-care plan
Every teenager should have a self-care plan in place for when panic sets in. All self-care plans will be unique to the individual; it’s all about recognizing what our triggers of stress are and what works to help alleviate it.
How to: Ask your teen to sit down and write what most commonly triggers high stress during exams and what techniques help them to overcome these hurdles. There’s no one size fits all, but having an understanding of our personal responses and remedies can help us all to better manage stress.
Originally Published by ACS Press Office
Bernadette is a High School Counsellor at ACS International School Hillingdon.