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  • nicolameirholistic

Exam season - What I do to try to reduce stress during my kids exams

Updated: May 13

It's really fun in our house at the moment! One teenager is about to start A Level exams and the other GCSEs. How did this happen?!?! Some might say I'm a glutton for punishment! I am tired already, and I'm not particularly looking forward to these next few weeks, but I am hopeful we can get through without too many tears and tantrums. I've learnt a few strategies over the last couple of years that have really helped to reduce stress levels all round.


I am by no means an expert but seeing as exams properly kick off this week I wanted to share what seems to work, most of the time, in my house. Please don't be under any illusions though, I don't have a magic wand and everything is not perfect. It's messy at times but I try my best. My main aim over these next few weeks is to try and create a calm sanctuary for my girls to retreat to which is also conducive to effective revision and self belief. All whilst remaining sane myself!! I'll help as much as I can to manage their stress, overwhelm and tiredness. I'll basically be spinning lots of plates! But it's my way of trying to make everything just a little bit easier (for us all!).



So this is what I try to do:

 

Eating well

Not living off of processed food. Trying to cook nutritious colourful meals (including breakfast) to feed the brain and provide some energy. I will say that this doesn't happen100% of the time but the majority of time. Treats are definitely allowed too!

 

Keeping hydrated

Drinking lots of water is super important to keep the body and brain hydrated and functioning well. Two litres is a good guide. I know my girls roll their eyes at the amount of times I ask if they have drunk enough water but it is an absolute must.

 

Getting enough sleep

This is a difficult one because what I consider to be a reasonable time is not what they consider a reasonable time but we meet somewhere in the middle and they go to bed at roughly the same time each night, excluding weekends, which is not much later at the moment.

 

Exercising regularly

It may feel like there isn't time for exercising whilst trying to navigate a mountain of revision. But there are always pockets of time and they will reap the benefits if they do. It's sometimes a battle but just walking around the block, going for a short run or doing a quick workout at home will increase their energy levels and mental clarity.

 

Turning off all tech an hour before bed

We often struggle with this one in our house and it feels like we are clashing heads at times. But when it is done, the evening routine preceding bedtime works a lot smoother. Sleep happens more easily because the brain hasn't been stimulated by the blue light of a phone or other device. Not only will the quantity of sleep be sufficient, but the quality of sleep will too. My girls also charge their phones downstairs overnight to reduce temptations although I'm not sure how much longer we can insist on this!

 

Still doing what they enjoy

It's so important for them to do some of the things they love whether that be seeing friends, watching their favourite programmes, playing games online with their mates or playing sport for example. I want my daughters to organise rewards for themselves to break up their revision which can often feel monotonous.

 

Routine

A chaotic house is not conducive to learning and calmness. I try to have rough timings for dinner etc so that my girls can plan their study time around it. This way they feel a little more relaxed. They set most routines themselves, for example, wake up/bed times, shower times, revision times, gym times/workout times etc. They definitely feel more organised and in control when they do this and it certainly makes my life easier!

 
 

Prepping bag the night before

'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail' - cue more eye rolling from my girls! But it is a fact that getting everything prepared the night before will not only allow them to sleep with less worry but will ensure they are organised for their exam/revision the following day. I have one daughter who religiously does this and one daughter who doesn't!

 

Helping to set realistic goals

Goals and tasks are much easier to achieve if they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Setting a goal to read a whole book in two hours isn't possible for most of us. So I encourage them to break down their goals into bite sized chunks so that the thought of working through them isn't overwhelming and they feel like they are bagging several quick wins in a short space of time. This applies to revision plans too - manageable chunks of study with regular breaks.

 

Motivating/inspiring them to believe in themselves

I'm sure we all do this. I try to be full of encouragement, support and inspire them to want to do as well as they can. They may just need a listening ear or a comforting hug. It's natural for them to feel like they aren't doing enough or haven't done enough and I've seen this emerge as a pattern before many past exams (especially the night before). So I try to reaffirm that they have worked hard and have done enough. I've talked about my own experiences with revising, doing exams, creating study plans and subject choices and the mistakes I've made. But how, in the end, everything works itself out and we are where we are meant to be. There is some room for error. Our path can be changed or adapted or delayed. I feel there is so much pressure on our young people to follow a certain career path which doesn't suit everyone. We should all be celebrated whatever we choose to do.

 

Encouraging them to talk (about how they are feeling and what they are revising)

A difficult one, but I try to create an environment where they feel at ease to talk. Actively listening to what they are saying and what they aren't saying (which is often more important). I always answer their questions openly and honestly. I love hearing what they are revising too. It's a chance for them to practice their knowledge and skills and sometimes a chance for me to learn something new.

 

Focusing on one day at a time

With so many exams ahead (mine have approximately twenty GCSE exams over five weeks and seven A Level exams over three weeks) and lets not forget the exams and coursework they have already done. It's so important that they don't feel overwhelmed and bogged down by the shear enormity of what is ahead. It's natural to feel like this, I do and I'm not even the one doing the exams! It's easy to get consumed by an exam that didn't go as well as they wanted it to. We look at what went well and what didn't go so well and if anything could be done differently next time. I use the analogy of a drawer where the exam for that day gets folded up and put in that drawer which we then close. It gives a little bit of head space to concentrate on the next exam.

 

Don't take it personally

It's a real challenge sometimes dealing with a teenager on a normal day, but when you add exam stress into the mix it can ramp up to another level. There are highs and lows, times where nothing you say is right and where you feel exhausted yourself. I listen, sympathise and empathise and then go and silently scream in a cupboard! Only joking! Well, I do feel like that sometimes. I try to remember what it was like for me when I was doing my GCSEs and A Levels (although it's completely different now). Whilst it's important to me that I look after and support my girls, I also make sure I take good care of myself so that I am well equipped to deal with everything that is thrown at me.

 

Remembering to breathe! (Deeply!)

Something so simple can have such a positive effect. At times of anxiety or stress I encourage them to concentrate on their breath. A really simple technique is to visualise a square and breathe in whilst you move along one side of the imaginary square in your mind, breathe out as you move along the next side and repeat. The concentration involved in visualising the square will slow down the breath which will lower the blood pressure, slow the heart rate and signal to our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down. This technique can be used wherever they are.

 

If you are a parent of teenagers taking their exams I wish you all lots of luck and send strength and compassion your way. I really hope there is something here that will help in a small way.


Thanks for reading, N x


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