Summer has begun: the evenings are lighter and flowers are in full bloom. However, for many children and young people May, June and July usher in a time of year that can be daunting and stressful: exam season. With SATs, GCSEs and A-level exams to face, it’s nerve-wracking for young learners.
While it's normal to feel nervous before an exam, exam-related stress and anxiety can sometimes be severe, manifesting in headaches, stomach aches, intense worrying, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite or feeling low (1). It’s therefore important to support the emotional well-being of young people during exam season to better help them cope with the associated anxiety and stress:
- Don’t Add to the Pressure
We all want the best for our children, but it's important not to contribute to their test anxiety. According to support group Childline, many children feel that the most pressure to excel in exams comes from their own family members. Furthermore, researchers found that students who reported higher levels of parental pressure had greater anxiety levels during assessments which ultimately hindered their academic performance (2). Therefore, instead of placing emphasis on top marks and setting unrealistically high standards for our children, we should adopt an encouraging and reassuring attitude when discussing exams with them. Reminding our children that their worth extends far beyond grades and that setbacks do not define their future can help alleviate anxiety.
- The Importance of a Balanced Diet
It’s also crucial to ensure your child is eating three balanced meals a day during exam season. Not only is a balanced diet vital for your child's overall health, but research also highlights an association between healthy eating patterns and a reduction in anxiety symptoms (3). Certain foods have anxiety-calming properties, and these foods could be incorporated into meals in the run-up to exams. For example, oily fish such as salmon or mackerel contain a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which have been linked to a reduction in anxiety (4, 5).
- Encouraging Exercise
Scientists have consistently found physical activity to be an effective stress buster. Not only does exercise physiologically lower HPA Axis reactivity, regulating our stress response (6), but it also facilitates the stress recovery process by offering a respite from worry about upcoming tests. Encouraging your children to remain active during exam season, whether that means swimming, cycling, or dancing, proves more advantageous in lowering test anxiety than being glued to a library desk 24/7.
- Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Young people may be tempted to leave revision to last-minute all-night cramming sessions, but studies identifying poor sleep quality as associated with higher levels of stress and poorer exam performance (7) advise against this. It has been found that good-quality sleep is linked to memory consolidation (8), improvement in attention and concentration, as well as improvements in mental health (9) and stress recovery. Therefore, ensuring your child gets the recommended hours of sleep a night (9-12 hours for 6–12-year-olds and 8-10 hours for teenagers) will not only help reduce exam-related anxiety but also augment exam performance.
However, as we all know, getting this essential shuteye can sometimes be easier said than done, especially with the looming stress of an upcoming exam. To help your children unwind for a restful night of sleep, encourage switching off electronic devices such as phones and computers at least 30 minutes before bed. Additionally, taking 1 or 2 SNOOZE tablets an hour before bed as part of their exam bedtime routine might help reduce any stressful and anxious thoughts your child might have, allowing for more peaceful sleep. Inspired by the tranquillity of a baby after feeding, these berry-flavoured chewable tablets contain an all-natural milk hydrolysate known as Lactium. Lactium increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA while simultaneously reducing cortisol levels for a serene pre-exam sleep.
- Striking a Balance: Revision and Self-Care during Exam Season
Guiding your child in creating a well-structured timetable that incorporates both revision and study breaks is a valuable strategy for managing test anxiety. This approach not only aids effective time management, steering your kids away from last-minute panicky cramming but also emphasizes the importance of relaxation. Intentionally planning rewarding activities after revision sessions and exams, e.g., eating their favourite meal or spending time with friends, serves to make the exam season a lot less daunting. By integrating self-care and rewarding experiences into exam preparation alongside studying, we can help foster a healthier and more sustainable approach to managing test anxiety.
- Support the Immune System
There are still colds (and Covid) going round right now, not to mention other nasty bugs. Have a box of Leapfrog IMMUNE on standby to take at the very first sign of symptoms to nip it in the bud. Iron deficiency can negatively affect cognitive function, and IMMUNE will help to balance iron levels in the body too.
When to Get Help
The information provided in this article should not replace professional advice, therefore if your child is suffering from persistent and severe anxiety even after exams, do consult your GP.