If you’re a teenager of school or college age, you will worry about exams. Essays, coursework, exams by memory, subjects you find difficult and knowing you have to get GCSE and A level grades in order to progress in life means the pressure can be high. Having to choose subjects at such a young age to determine your future path can also be stressful.
Additionally, if you are a teen with mental health issues or have additional needs, having to think about exams can be daunting. You may need extra support from parents, teachers and teaching assistants or have to take fewer exams in order to cope. It very much depends on the individual, how much you are able to do academically and cope with emotionally.
The most important thing is to not be hard on yourself and to do what is right for you. Exam grades are important for careers later in life, but you need to look after your own emotional health too.
Signs of stress
First of all it is vital to recognise signs of stress. You may experience frequent worries, insomnia, have headaches and stomach pains, not want to eat, feel irritable, feel lower than normal and hopeless about the future. If you start to have panic attacks or depression and are unable to function or feel better, you will need to see your GP to help you manage what is going on.
The NHS advises, ‘’Having someone to talk to about their work can help. Support from a parent, tutor or study buddy can help young people share their worries and keep things in perspective. Encourage your child to talk to a member of school staff who they feel is supportive if you think your child is not coping. It may also be helpful for you to talk to their teachers. Try to involve your child as much as possible.’’
Speak to someone you trust
Additionally to this, the mental health charity Young Minds gives tips for teens who are struggling with their health and the pressure of exams. They advise several things to help, including:
‘’1) Let your trusted friends and family know you are struggling so they can be there to support you and offer a listening ear. You don’t have to go through this alone.
2) Ask for help from your school and teachers to give you more support and resources
3) Find a study group or start your own – this can help you feel less isolated and build friendships, helping to relieve stress
4) Be kind to yourself and write a list of all your achievements. ‘’ (Young Minds)
The charity ChildLine also seems to agree with the above advice. They recommend that as well as talking to teachers and trusted friends, that speaking with a counsellor may also help in some cases. You can speak to a counsellor at school, through a charity or be referred by a doctor.
Some stress busting tips that they recommend include taking breaks for 20 minutes each hour, giving yourself something to look forward to, planning exam revision in a specific time slot and making sure you make time for self care, sleep, eating well, relaxation and exercise.
Revising for exams means you may compare yourself to your friends. Try not to compete or constantly look at social media as this will make you feel worse, you may feel not good enough.
What to do if I am a teen or parent of a teen with bad anxiety?
If exam stress triggers your anxiety badly, it is important to go and see your GP and also try to practice anxiety management strategies- including talking to loved ones or a close friend, relaxation techniques, meditation and visualisation, calming music, warm baths, journaling your fears on paper, creating some art and reducing time spent on the internet/ screens. If anxiety is particularly high, a doctor may want you to try medication or counselling.
Counselling can help to unpack worries in a safe environment and if you are a teen, you can work with therapists that understand the needs of your age group.
As a parent, make sure you don’t pressurise your child or heap criticism on to them if they are struggling. Be there as a support and a listening ear. Help them find a safe, quiet place to revise and be there as a positive sounding board. You can also give your teen small rewards to help motivation. If you are very concerned about the impact exam stress is having on your child, please go with them to their GP.
Child Line have an art box resource to help deal with stress here: https://www.childline.org.uk/toolbox/art-box/#Howtouse
Here at Teen Calm, we provide wellness subscription boxes for teens struggling with anxiety. Each month, we have goodies to send to your child to help them with their fears and let them now they aren’t alone.