Exam season is always going to be pressured, but it does not have to be stressful.
Pressure can be stimulating, invigorating — it can bring out the best in you - but stress is never helpful.
When we are stressed, a part of our brain fires a 'flight or fight' reaction which reduces our cognitive or thinking function, and our memory function.
Basically, stress stops our brains from functioning properly.
To help you help your son or daughter, mental health expert and mindfulness practitioner, Graham Doke, founder of Anamaya for School has plenty of advice:
1. What are the signs of exam stress?
Every child will react differently to stress - you may see uncharacteristic withdrawal, outbursts of temper, loss of appetite, or simply heightened emotions.
Be aware of anything out of the ordinary.
2. How can you help?
Don't wait for the signs of stress to emerge - take action in advance: create a calming environment, don't make everything about exams and don't shut normal household life down.
Your child's mind needs to be fresh and receptive to study effectively. It is also good to set intention.
So, here are some ideas to establish a good calm, receptive state for study:
- Prior to each study session, your child should clear their workspace, but with intent. It's a bit like a Japanese tea ceremony: a slow and deliberate clearing of the workspace, with thought given to each item cleared, with the intention that each item cleared also clears the mind. It is a wonderful calming exercise.
- After clearing and setting out, the child should sit quietly for between three and five minutes. If there is a mindfulness programme at your child's school, they will be familiar with this. If not, a specialist Mindfulness for School programme is available online. Or use a simple meditation technique: simply sit quietly, eyes shut, spine upright, and make an active effort to follow your breath. Don't think about anything, simply feel your breath coming in and going out — don't fight thoughts, just let them float away, and concentrate on your breath. If you find it hard, count as you breathe. Do this for five minutes before study.
- After sitting, when settling down to commence study, it is really effective and calming to actually make a statement of intention: 'Now I am going to study chapters three and four.’ Much as it may sound foolish, it’s best to say it out loud. It's about calming and ordering the mind: a calm and ordered mind is receptive.
- Your child should take a break regularly. Changing subjects creates a good opportunity: the break should be relaxing, and most effectively could simply be a few minutes sitting again. Falling asleep for a few minutes is good. Changing subjects after the break means, yes, clearing and setting out again.