The summer is approaching, school is almost out, but first there are EXAMS! For many teens, this creates a lot of stress! Teens struggle with the amount of pressure they have in school, and parents struggle watching them! What can you do to help your teen through this stressful time and keep calm during finals?
Stress is a real or perceived threat that causes us to be in a state of mental tension and worry. Feeling stress is a fact of life, but there are ways to manage stress so it doesn’t interfere with our life. We may not be able to take the exams for our kids or shelter them from all of life’s stress, but we can support them and help them manage stress. On a regular basis, teens may stress about school, relationships, family, friends, work, college applications, money, not having transportation to places, etc. When exams are added on to this stress, it makes it difficult to cope with and they may need extra support.
Stress symptoms:what to look for
- Feelings: anxiety, irritability, fear, moodiness, and embarrassment.
- Behaviors: Crying, acting impulsively, nervous laughter, snapping at friends, teeth grinding, increased smoking, alcohol use, drug use, or vaping, increase or decrease in appetite.
- Thoughts: self-criticism, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, forgetfulness or mental disorganization, preoccupation with the future, fear of failure
- Physical: Tight muscles, cold or sweaty hands, back or neck problems, stomachaches, sleep disturbances, more colds or infections, rapid breathing or pounding heart, and fatigue.
If you notice your teen having any of these stress symptoms, bring it to their attention and have a conversation with them on ways to help reduce their stress.
Strategies to cope with stress
Help your teen identify the stress. Maybe there is more going on with them than just the exams. Help them manage their time, so they don’t feel so overwhelmed. It is difficult for some teens to execute effective time management skills, especially when they are highly stressed. Validate their feelings and offer support.
Encourage them to implement a self-care routine. Encourage them to reach out to friends, exercise, or work on a hobby. Activities like this will allow their brain and body a break from the stress, even if it is only for a little while. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins that boost your mood and make you feel good. It also allows for a distraction. Instead of focusing on your worries, focus on how your body feels while moving. Take breaks from studying and have some fun. Deep breathing is another way to help put the brakes on stress and bring the mind and body back to center.
Help your teen utilize the 4 A’s
- Avoid unnecessary stress. Help your teen build boundaries with people; help them say no. Give them permission to stay away from people that are negative and cause them a great deal of stress. Help them take control over their environment. Having a sense of control can help decrease stress.
- Alter the situation. Encourage them to talk about their feelings rather than hold them in. Help them be more assertive, while willing to compromise in some areas with them.
- Adapt to the stressor. Exams are not going to go away. Exams can feel like the most important things they have done all year; help them re-frame that feeling so it is less threatening. Help them look at the big picture. Negative thoughts will often lead to negative feelings and behaviors.
- Accept things you can’t change. Even though teens cannot change the fact that exams are coming, help them focus on what they can change. Work with them to practice gratitude and look for the upside.
Remember the basics
When we are stressed, we tend to forget about our basic needs, such as sleep and food. Make sure your teen is prioritizing sleep and eating. A healthy diet will help combat stress and help the brain function better. Reducing caffeine and sugar will help to feel more relaxed and sleep better. The National Sleep Foundation recommends teens get 8-10 hours of sleep, but they are getting on an average of 7 hours of sleep a night. During exam week, they get even less sleep. This may impact their test taking abilities. Help your teen keep calm during finals by encouraging sleeping, healthy eating, and staying away from drugs and alcohol.