Exclusive: Exam stress tips from a teen confidence & mental health expert

We get expert guidance on how to cope with pressure around exams.

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The month the UK marks Mental Health Awareness Week, Annette Du Bois – a child and teen confidence and mental health expert – gives us her exam stress advice…

The word most people dread at this time of year? “Exams.” It’s amazing how just a simple word read aloud or repeated in your head can bring up such a mix of emotions including fear, anxiety and at times, even physical illness.

However, it’s not the word that causes you to feel like that, but the meaning behind it and associated emotions that create these mind-based issues.

Our mind is incredibly powerful, more so than many of us realise. But when used incorrectly works against us – altering perspective, which amplifies things to appear bigger, scarier or worse than they really are. I call it the disproportionate dilemma!

Here’s your opportunity to get your mind working for you, to finally take control of the nerves and associate that word – “EXAM” – to the wonderful next step in your life; a new journey, a key to achievement. Because we are all unlimited potential, so let’s unlock yours…

Focus On What You Want

Our mind, body and emotions are so closely connected, what we think about, comes about. In other words, we get what we focus on. When challenges occur, or pressures build (especially prior to and during exams) we end up focusing on all the things we don’t want, pulling negativity towards us and becoming utterly un-resourceful in the process.

Action: Become aware of your inner voice, what is it really saying? Recognise the language patterns.

Then choose to focus on what you want. See what begins to happen when you make a conscious choice and things begin to get done.

Find The Gap

When revising for exams the mind becomes quickly full, thinking about the whole subject, all the books and notes that need to be remembered, all at once. This creates the overwhelming, unhelpful stress and tightens the brain’s ability to think clearly. Your mind becomes turbulent, shutting-off creative flow and concentration which quickly leads to a distorted perception of the situation.

It’s not the amount of revision (although this is crucial and required of course), or even last-minute cramming that will help you retrieve the information when required. It’s the ability to relax your mind and allow your thoughts to flow for clear thinking and resourceful action.

Action: Find a quiet place, and if safe to do so, close your eyes for a few moments. Focus on your breath, breathing deep into your belly and making a conscious decision to relax. If it helps choose a word, place or phrase to focus on.

Naturally, your mind will begin to relax and enter the gap in between your thoughts, stepping back from the situation or emotion (create distance). And there in holds the key unlocking your mind from the tight jaws of stress and overwhelm.

Mind Your Language

You are only limited by your communication and the self-talk you allow to fill your mind. As you’ve discovered, you get what you focus on and this also comes from how you communicate and what you say to yourself inside (self-talk).

Whether it’s negative or positive, language becomes your reality and will either block or unlock your true potential. In times of stress and pressure such as exams, language can become more exaggerated, desperate and create beliefs based on that communication. “I will never remember”, “Everyone’s going to do better than me”, “I always worry about…”, “No-one can help me”, “Everything is too much” “No-one understands” etc. You get the picture.

You may have used something similar or worse to describe how you feel, and how you describe your experience. Recognise your limiting pattern then get determined to change it to avoid falling into a never-ending downward spiral.

Action: Take charge of your communication and the language you use. Questions control how we feel, what we do and helps build resourcefulness. The more resourceful we are the more resources appear. When stuck in a situation, challenge or emotion. Ask yourself bigger better questions…

  • What do I need?
  • Who can help me?
  • How can I change my feelings towards this?
  • What must happen for me to change this now?

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