Coping with exam stressAs our children approach the ‘exam’ time of year, it is crucial to keep an eye on their anxiety levels.  Anxiety can lead to poor academic performance and under-achievement, even in the most capable of students.

When children get stressed and worried, their sleep can be disturbed, which leads to irritability and an inability to focus. This in turn can cause panic and has been known to lead to depression in some cases.

It is important to remember that this stressful period WON’T last for ever, and that once the exams are over, the stress will ease.  It’s also worth highlighting that a moderate degree of stress gives us a rush of adrenaline which boosts our ability to get things done.  However, it is all about finding the right balance and learning to manage stress effectively so that it doesn’t take over and have a negative effect.

We must also be mindful of our own stress levels and managing these for the sake of our own health, whether we have children going through exams or not.

Here are my top tips for helping to manage stress levels in both ourselves and our children.  If you have children undergoing exams, please consider printing these tips and letting them read them for themselves, as this will be far more effective than trying to tell them what to do!


1 Take a Break – Take small breaks on a regular basis.  Your brain can only absorb so much information before it needs time to process it.  Your memory will work better when you feed it information across a realistic time-frame, and this approach is far more effective than cramming at the last minute.  Even if you stop to make a cup of tea or take a short stroll to get some fresh air, you will feel the benefit.

2 Eat Well – The temptation may be to sit at your desk and eat junk food which is quick and easy.  However, a balanced diet is crucial for your health, especially during an exam period.  Good nutrition and healthy eating will help optimise energy levels and performance.  For those over the drinking-age, beware the effect of alcohol as it can affect your ability to retain information.  Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

3 Breathe! – Focus on your mindfulness and breathing techniques.  Concentrate on breathing in gently through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for two seconds, then breath out SLOWLY through you mouth for six seconds. Practice this circular breathing system as often as you can to help lower stress levels.  You’ll soon find you no longer need to count and that your brain will automatically use this technique as a coping mechanism.

4 Sleep Well – The quality of your sleep is important.  A good night’s rest will improve thinking and concentration.  Remember that sleep patterns can be affected by stress.  Allow at least half an hour between finishing your revision and going to bed.  Use this time to chill out (ideally away from a screen), soak in a hot bath or shower and listen to some relaxing music.  Most importantly, don’t dwell on all the work you wish you had time to do.  A decent rest before an exam is is far more effective than working through the night.

5 Have Fun – Make time for the things you enjoy between your studies.  For example, taking exercise can help boost energy levels, and is a great way to clear the mind and relieve stress.  A good laugh is also very beneficial.  So treat yourself to an hour at the gym, a walk, or a get-together with some friends.

6 Speak Up – Don’t be afraid to voice your own needs.  Ask your parents or carers to be as flexible as possible during exams.  For example, you may have household chores or other responsibilities that could be taken on by someone else for a couple of weeks to allow you to focus on your revision.

7 Keep Talking – Chatting things through can help you remain calm and keep things in perspective.  Don’t let anxiety remain bottled up or a molehill can easily turn into a mountain.  Its important to remember that feeling a little anxious is perfectly normal and a chat with family, friends or a teacher can help get your worries off your chest.  Exams are part of life and they won’t last forever, nor will they necessarily define you for the rest of your life.  Your self-esteem, charisma, relationships and creativity are just as important when it comes to a fulfilled and happy life!

If you, or someone you know, would benefit from taking in confidence about exam anxiety, I have a lot of experience in helping youngsters manage their stress so that they can tackle exams effectively.  For a one-to-one session, or a consultation by Skype if you cannot get to me in person, please contact Valerie on 07861 648632 or