Exam Stress – Be mindful and help your child cope 

It’s that time of year when the most emotionally charged and hormonally explosive people we know are subjected to…you guessed it. The most important exams they will ever take.

Before we congratulate the powers that be on their timing, let’s take a journey back down memory lane to try and remember how we felt then. I can remember a trip with my mother at the tender age of 15 to the GP with a case of psoriasis on my elbows. After a hasty examination he huffed “exams?” I nodded. “All in your head, stop worrying and get on with it, you can’t change it” He was right about it all being in my head but wrong about being able to change things.

Thankfully, times have moved on and most of us (including most GPs!) are far more knowledgeable about the word stress…or are we?

Do we all realise, for example, that stress, anxiety, anger, etc. are all caused by chemical reactions which are triggered by thoughts? The thoughts encourage our body to react in a certain way which should help us out. This highly developed and efficient reaction ensures that faced with clear and present danger, such as imminent attack from a crocodile, snake, bear, Ninja warrior, etc. we are able to fight it…or run like hell! Commonly known as fight or flight!

Now, when we had to chase, catch, kill and drag our own food back to base, this was a really useful reaction. It even helped us when the Vikings invaded or a German rifle was waved in our face. It continues to help those faced with life threatening situations every day, which is why we need to keep this reaction going.

So, now we’ve established that we’re all brilliant and our bodies are the very living example of perfection, we can start to think about exactly when we need the fight or flight reaction. And when we don’t.

Do we need to fight an exam?

Do we need to run like hell from an exam? (Can exams run?)

If you’ve answered “yes” to either of the above questions, keep reading the first part of this blog until you say “no”

So, we don’t need to excercise this amazing brain / body reaction When revising or sitting an exam do we?

Let’s try something new. Here are some tips for helping you through your exam stress…

Try to keep a mood diary for one week so that you can begin to notice times when you are feeling stressed, there are also apps you can use. Use smiley faces to track your mood at certain times of the day. Make a note of what was happening and why you felt the way you did. At the end of the week, review the diary.

Once you have begun to notice your stress and understand when it occurs, you need to make friends with it. Have a little chat. Your stress is your inner Ninja. It protects you and keeps you alive. This is brilliant. But your inner Ninja is a little over worked. He or she is starting to think that they have to be with you all the time. Please tell your inner Ninja that they don’t. They have to rest so that they can be ready when Viking attack strikes. Say to your Ninja…

You are my Ninja and I’m really happy because my body is working perfectly but you need to rest so that I can concentrate on what I need to do and you can be ready for when you are needed. I’m going to do some breathing exercises which will help us both to calm down”

Practice some simple mindfulness techniques – mindfulness is the practice of focussing your mind on one thing in the present with no thought for future or past. The cool thing about mindfulness is that recent studies have shown it to be as if not more effective than drugs and some other therapies in treating depression and anxiety. But that’s not all. Really clever scientists have even shown that by practicing mindfulness, us amazing humans can CHANGE the makeup of our brains! 

Sit comfortably on a chair with your feet on the floor, close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath and breathe in through your nose for a slowcount of 3…one, elephant, two, elephant, three elephant

Hold your breath for a slow count of 3

Breath out for a slow count of 3

Do this 3 times

As you breathe in, visualise clean fresh energy entering your body, filling up your lungs with healthy air. As you breathe out, visualise the anxious, worried, dirty air leaving your body.

If your mind wonders whilst you are breathing, acknowledge the thought and bring your awareness back to your breathing. Notice how the breath continues in and out, try and feel in your body where your breath goes and take notice.

Once you have done this, if you still have worrying thoughts in your head, imagine them as bubbles in front of you. Each bubble has a thought in it. Look at the bubble, imagine the thought as a word inside the bubble and then imagine it continuing its journey up into the air.

Another helpful mindfulness technique is to choose an object, a pen or phone anything nearby. Study the object with curiosity. Look at its shape, how does it feel to hold? How does the object feel against your skin? 

You can practice these techniques every time you feel anxious or worried, it may take a little time but it will help. 

There’s no need to let worry and anxiety get in the way of your life and what you need to achieve. Take charge today! Give your Ninja a rest and free your mind!

For more info and links to free mindfulness apps check out http://marc.ucla.edu

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