Exam Stress, Panic and Supporting your Child

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Anxiety is rife amongst young people, with one in six experiencing serious anxiety.


During exams, stress can get overwhelming. As a parent, it is important and incredibly helpful to support your child by ensuring they have time off studying, eat healthily, get enough sleep and plan their work schedule sensibly.


Recognising stress


Your child may not realise that the symptoms they are experiencing could be due to stress. They may not be directly stressed about school or university work, but may be suffering from anxious thoughts about some other elements in their lives. Choose a good calm moment and encourage them to open up and be there in a non-judgemental way to support them in resolving some of their concerns. It may be that you are not the best person to have this conversation, if that is the case, encourage them to speak to someone of their choosing.


Physical signs of stress can be:


·         Headaches

·         Muscle tension or pain

·         Dizziness

·         Profuse sweating

·         Overactive bowels

·         Sleep problems

·         Fatigue

·         Increased or decreased appetite.


Mental and emotional signs can be:


·         Feeling of being overwhelmed

·         Irritability

·         Nausea

·         Shakiness

·         Anxiety and fear

·         Low self-esteem

·         Racing thoughts

·         Constant worrying

·         Difficulty concentrating

·         Difficulty making decisions.


Helping your stressed child or teenager


Firstly, ask your child if there is anything concerning them? They may not like to admit it, or not see that they are stressed.


Suggest that you take a break, perhaps together. The break could be treating them to a hot chocolate in a café, or going for a short walk, or visiting a grandparent if you have the time. Whatever you chose, removing them from the stressful environment is a good option.


Make a plan with them on how to reduce their workload or solve the problem that they feel stressed about. Explain that stress is normal, but that it shouldn’t be overwhelming and that you want to support them so that they feel well enough to continue.


Here are seven handy tips for lifestyle hacks that can reduce panic


1.      Communication:

Encourage your son or daughter to talk to you about their concerns and worries. They don’t have to tell you everything about their life, but if they know they can rely on you for support and ‘debriefing’ that can be a huge relief. You may be able to take some of their burden if they feel they are experiencing a stressful situation, or you may be able to explain why a situation is not necessarily as stressful as the child is viewing it.


2.      Energetic activities:

Not all children love sport, but if you can encourage your son or daughter to do some form of activity (swimming, running, tennis etc.) which gets their heart racing then that could be a good chance for them to relax and clear their mind.


3.      Hobbies:

Alternatively or as well, a hobby such as yoga, art, photography or theatre could be ways to unwind and have a break from schoolwork, as well as to develop their passions. It is good to remember that there is more to a child's worth than exams - and they need to feel this to be true for themselves as well.


4.      Environment:

If it is possible, ensure your child or teenager feels their bedroom is a safe space designed to help them relax, free from loud surrounding noise and threats. It is ideal to make the bedroom an area just for sleeping in, rather than working in or watching TV in, though of course this is not possible for everyone.


5.      Bedtimes & routine:

To make sure your child or teenager is getting enough sleep, try and demonstrate a fairly fixed and stable daily routine and encourage them to do the same. Going to bed at a similar time each night, perhaps after having had a mug of milk, can help with the body recognising the end of the day and supporting a healthy sleep pattern.


6.      Nutrition:

Eating healthily has also been linked to lower stress and anxiety levels. Try to get your children to eat five a day. Their diet should include plenty of whole grains (brown spaghetti, rice, bread etc.) and be generally balanced. Try to the number of processed foods. Rather than banning foodstuffs, ‘all things in moderation’ is a good motto to stick to.


7.      Regular eating

Keep blood sugar levels to a stable rate in order to avoid dips in the day that could trigger depression and fatigue. Achieve this by avoiding sugary or caffeinated foods and drinks and by eating or drinking regularly (snack ideas could


Written by Emma Hammett, CEO of First Aid for Life

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