It’s fast approaching the time of year that most students dread: exam time. It’s normal to feel a bit of anxiety in the lead up to sitting exams and in small doses, it can help you to do better. When it becomes overwhelming, it can have the opposite effect and potentially stop you doing as well as you might otherwise have done.
I’m seeing quite a few students for anxiety relating to this and I wanted to pass on some advice that can help teens who are currently struggling with exam anxiety.
There are a few different situations that can make exam anxiety worse and I always ask students about their general lifestyle to see how it may be contributing before we tackle the anxiety itself. Some of the practical things that I look at with students include:
Sleep: Not getting enough sleep can make exam anxiety worse. Worries about studies, exams and not being able to get to sleep can create a vicious cycle that makes it even harder to sleep well. If poor sleep is an issue for teens with exam anxiety, this is something that can be addressed so that it doesn’t increase anxiety levels further.
Nutrition: A healthy, nutritious diet can help with anxiety and some foods can even help to reduce anxiety symptoms. Eating more of these foods in the run up to exams can help to calm things down. On a similar note, avoiding foods and drinks that are more likely to increase anxiety is really important around exam time too. This includes caffeine, which stimulates the nervous system.
Hydration: Even a little bit of dehydration can mean that you’re not functioning as well as you could be and this can be crucial during study sessions. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking – this is usually a sign that you’re already starting to get dehydrated. Try to drink regularly throughout the day to keep hydrated, even if you don’t necessarily feel that thirsty.
Sugar intake: Limiting sugar intake can help with exam anxiety. Sugar is known to cause insulin spikes, which can trigger anxiety symptoms. You’ll get an energy boost and ‘high’ after eating or drinking something sugary but it’ll be followed by a crash as blood sugar levels dip. This can leave you feeling tired and lacking in energy and motivation to study. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can also trigger the release of cortisol and adrenaline, two stress hormones that bring on anxiety symptoms.
Taking regular breaks: Longer study sessions aren’t always more productive ones. Studying for long periods of time without a break can be a bad move and studies have indicated that cramming doesn’t help you to remember information any better. I always stress the importance of taking regular breaks away from studying to recharge the mind and help to retain information from your studies.
Distractions: Another factor can be the amount of time that teens spend interacting with online friends and the distractions this can bring. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important for teens to have a structure and routine for managing their time and study sessions.
If you’re the parent of a teen that is struggling with exam anxiety and stress, you may be wondering if there is anything that you can do to help the situation. As well as the self help measures that I’ve already mentioned, there are a few things that parents can do to help teens through this challenging time of their life and reduce their anxiety:
Minimising negativity: Exam anxiety can be exaggerated by stress that isn’t directly related to exams or studies and this is an area that parents can help in. If you make a regular effort to eat together as a family, dinnertime conversation can be a culprit if it sways towards topics that could cause added anxiety. An example of this that I’ve seen with teens has involved discussing issues affecting the family, which have had the effect of stressing them out on top of the anxiety they are already feeling.
Organising rewards: Arranging fun activities and rewards that give your teen a much needed break from their studies can be another way to ease their anxiety. It can also help you to bond as a family.
Helping with structures: If you teen is struggling with putting together and sticking to a routine for revision, helping them to do this can make a lot of difference for reducing exam related anxiety.
Hypnotherapy can help teens to think differently about themselves and the exams they will be taking. A key part of this is the ability to not get drawn into “what if?” scenarios that can create more anxiety, and encourage procrastination and avoiding revision and studying altogether.
Hypnotherapy can teach tools and techniques to clear a racing mind so that you can go into an exam with a calm and positive manner. If you feel relaxed and confident in your abilities and preparation, you’re much more likely to be successful in reality. Once you’re in the exam, you can use the tools to reduce your anxiety and overcome stress and pressure that could otherwise be overwhelming.
Combined with lifestyle measures to help you to function at your best, hypnotherapy to help to reduce exam anxiety and get you ready to achieve your full potential.