We read more and more about exam stress and wonder what we can do to help our students with the pressures many are experiencing while facing exams. The students’ response to the stress may be lack of concentration, inability to sleep or oversleeping, or they may develop an eating disorder.

Source of Stress

Exams are stressful for students due to the unknown as well as fear of failure and work volume. If the issue is fear of failure, it is important to lower or clarify expectations for the teenager so the exams seem more achievable. However, if the issue is that they are overwhelmed by the workload, breaking down into manageable chunks is helpful and setting achievable targets with a study plan.

The deeper issue

However, frequently the student needs an emphasis on relational depth as often the exam stress is emphasising that perhaps they feel seen for performance, and not for self. Their deepest need is to feel loved and seen not for what they do, but for whom they are. The purpose of the stress symptom is to emphasise some aspect of self that is being neglected, and the response is to address the self issue and not the symptom itself.

Standard responses to exam stress

For example: for someone experiencing exam stress, possible cures include; counselling to reduce fear of failure, positive thinking. Meditation or tranquilisers.  However, often the issue is not the exam. The real issue that needs attending to is: ‘I am not an exam result’. The person feels that the exam is a measure of their self worth, and then it is that that needs to be resolved.  The student needs to feel that her worth lies in her unique and special presence, and that the exam is a measure of a set of questions, not a measure of her worth. Then the exam stress dissolves. The resolution of exam stress will only come about when the threat to self acceptance has been removed.

The most important ‘A’

The most important ‘A’ our teenagers need is an ‘A’ in emotional health. The reality is that the heart comes before the head, and our young people cannot attend at an intellectual level (head) if things are not right for them at a heart (emotional) level.

Stress busters to aid the exam students:

Deep breathing to calm, a guided relaxation or a meditation cd may be helpful. Exercise and good diet is critical at this time as fresh air helps them sleep. Finally, a deep conviction of feeling loved for self and not for their exam performance is vital.