Learn to deal with stress and channel it for your benefit
Published 23/05/2015 | 02:30
In these final days before the exams, you may find that your son's or daughter's stress is rising fast and that it threatens to overwhelm them. You may even fear that they will have a full-blown panic attack.
Researchers have shown that there is a clear correlation between stress and performance - small amounts of stress will help us to be focused and may improve our performance. But if that stress continues to rise, it becomes distracting and will impede our performance.
Because we all deal with stress differently, we will all have a different tolerance for stress. So that point at which the amount of stress shifts from being helpful, to being unhelpful, will also be different for everyone.
Having some stress, in the face of important exams, is both normal and helpful. Your aim will be to help your teenager to keep that stress at a useful and productive level.
There are a number of different ways to do this. Some, like encouraging them to take regular exercise, eat healthily and get plenty of sleep, are just good habits that will hopefully be established.
If not, then remind them frequently to balance out the work with fresh air, fuel for the body and rest. In addition to those good habits, they might need a couple of specific relaxation techniques to get through the next few weeks.
There are two main relaxation techniques to manage stress on my website www.davidcoleman.ie/radio-podcasts. In the listing on that page you'll find two podcasts I made with the Tubridy show on 2fm, explaining and demonstrating both techniques. Your son or daughter can download these podcasts and quickly learn the strategies.
Having a "bad" exam, where they don't do as well as they had hoped, has the potential to knock their equilibrium and disrupt their flow.
It may also increase their stress and anxiety levels. It really helps to have a plan to deal with this eventuality. You can suggest to them that they start, during and just after the exam, by using the breathing technique (on my website) to keep their adrenalin levels down, rather than spiralling into a panic.
They also need to challenge their potential for negative thinking and use positive self-talk instead. So, you might get them to remind themselves that this is only one exam and doesn't dictate how all the exams will go. They can remind themselves of all the effort they have put in so far and that this is not wasted. They can remind themselves that they are hard-working students.
Tell them to avoid an exam "post mortem" which may increase their upset and negativity. Post-mortems tend to focus on what got missed, rather than on what got achieved. Especially, encourage them to keep their social media switched off. Listening to others moan - or gloat - about the exam can intensify their own negative feelings.
You could suggest that they create a "closing" ritual where they, practically, leave the elements of that exam (like their study notes, those subject books, that exam paper etc) aside in a closed drawer or cupboard. As the saying goes, "out of sight is out of mind".
Then you can help them to distract themselves with a treat (for the effort they put in, even if the outcome wasn't as they hoped). Your son or daughter needs to prepare for doing well in the exams, so rewarding themselves for the work they have put in is equally important.
I have listed my five top treats for rewarding myself in the panel. But you may find they have their own way.
By the end of June both you and they will definitely deserve a reward!