How to deal with exam stress: before, during and after

Exam time is almost upon us and the stress levels start to rise. As a parent, you want to see your son succeed; part of his success is teaching him how to harness stress rather than be buried by it. Here are some insights into how to deal with exam stress, not only during the challenging period but pre-exam stress and post-exam stress too.

Stress is a natural response to pressure and can be a source of motivation. However, the tipping point of being helpful to unhelpful needs to be managed. Lifeline defines unhelpful stress as:

  • Becoming unable to ‘switch off’
  • Feeling like you can’t cope
  • Withdrawing or becoming highly irritable with people
  • Losing the ability to concentrate
  • Physically feeling rundown
  • Having difficulty eating or sleeping properly.

People do react to stress differently, so your son may not experience all the symptoms listed above. However, it gives you a gauge on how your son is coping. How he reacts to stress can also depend on what else is happening in his life; everyone is different so find stress management techniques that work for him.

Before exams

Unlike other life stresses, exams are a scheduled occurrence so they can be planned for. To reduce stress, Headspace suggests being as organised as possible, planning ahead, looking after yourself and staying focused.

Take the time to get organised before exam periods and check out our exam preparation blog for key tips on preparing for exams.

During exams

While your son is working on his study plan, here are some tips to help keep stress at bay:

  • Acknowledge his feelings
    Prompt your son to speak up if he is feeling stressed, give him the liberty to take a break and speak to you or another trusted adult.

  • Keep healthy
    Providing the brain with the fuel it needs to concentrate during this period is important. Eating nutritional food and drinking plenty of water while avoiding junk food will help his brain absorb the information. Be mindful to have plenty of healthy snacks in the cupboard.

  • Get in the zone
    Smiling Mind suggests that understanding and focusing on mindfulness can assist with managing stress. Through developing emotional resilience, enhancing creativity, enhancing decision-making and problem-solving, and building a sense of calm, clarity and contentment — all of which are necessary during exams.

  • Keep a routine
    During study and exam time, your son should always have plenty of breaks. Make sure he gets eight hours of sleep and stays active to destress and reduce physical tension. This will help him keep alert, maintain his energy and minimise stress. Do your usual morning routine and try to keep a calm atmosphere in the house. Your son will thank you for it.

After exams

Once your son walks out of his exams and in the days that follow, he may experience mixed emotions. Here are some tips to combat the post-exam stress:

  • Avoid comparison
    Conversations with his peers after exams can cause your son high levels of stress, especially when discussing what answers people gave to particular questions. Remind your son that he did the best he could and to avoid worrying about what others are doing.

  • Maintain perspective and relax
    While exams are important, worrying about them will cause unnecessary stress. Talk to your son about trying not to lose perspective; there is no point worrying about something that is now out of his hands. If this is a hard task for your son, prompt him to talk to someone or do something to take his mind off things, such as sport or spending time with friends.

    Relaxation is important to slow down the brain; especially at the end of a long day of studying. Deep breathing, having a shower and drinking tea, are all great ways to help slow down.

  • Choose rewards
    Take a moment to reward your son for his efforts. It will be worth planning a special activity after the end of exams to give your son something to look forward to.

At Christ Church Grammar School, we place strong emphasis on mindfulness through The Wynne Centre for Boys’ Health and Wellbeing and understand the importance of your son’s wellbeing and mental health. If you are interested in learning how we build good men, download our Building Good Men Magazine.

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