Coping with stress…

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments


When I asked a group of Year 12’s if they were feeling stressed eyebrows were raised. What a stupid question! Of course they were stressed…. they had exams. In common rooms and corridors the phrase ‘I am so stressed’, rings out and it is probably true. So what are the symptoms of stress and how can you deal with it?

Lying awake worrying about things is quite common. It might be that you can’t get to sleep or that you go to sleep and then wake with a start as you remember something you haven’t done or worry that you will forget some vital piece of information in the exam. Worries always seem to assume gigantic proportions during in the night and you may well lie there sweating with anxiety.  There are a couple of things you could try:

1. before you go to sleep write your worries down on a piece of paper and then throw them away. You have acknowledged they are there but you are also saying – they are not important now – goodbye.

2. When you wake in the night and are really churned up, get up and go to the loo. You might want to get a drink. This change of position and activity can sometimes break into your stream of thought and when you go back to bed your head is clearer.

Unusually for a British Bank Holiday, this weekend has been sunny but there has also been the pressure of revision. Maybe the family have been outside enjoying the sun, maybe having a BBQ and you long to join them but the thought of revision looms over you. If you leave your books and enjoy the sunshine you feel guilty and if you stay in revising you feel resentful. You do have to keep a sense of proportion though; if you have successfully revised the topics you planned to, you should factor in a break. You need down time too.

It often feels as though things aren’t going well for you. Why can’t you do equations today, why can’t you remember the carbon cycle or the importance of a character in a play. Rather than giving yourself time to absorb information you get edgy and frustrated. The more overwrought you get, the less likely you are to remember information so, take a deep breath and try to focus calmly.  it is a tendency of humans , myself included, to suffer from Eeyore syndrome – every day is another gloomy day because we don’t look at what is going well, just those things that are going wrong.

Physical manifestations of stress can include a dry mouth, butterflies in your stomach , sweaty hands and nausea. When your mind is in turmoil your body responds and so this is an even more pressing reason to practise relaxation techniques. You might find yourself clenching your jaw and gritting your teeth as you struggle to get to grips with a certain topic. During the night you might grind your teeth. Not only does this damage your teeth but clenching your jaw wracks up the tension even more.  Try letting your jaw relax and place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This diffuses tension in the jaw area.

Stress can also cause you to lose your temper easily and it is often family and friends who bear the brunt of these attacks because sub consciously you know they are always there for you. Remember though, life is equally stressful for them and so try to moderate your moods. Your parents want you to do well and although you may sometimes not appreciate their concern and support, remember they are always there for you – no matter what. The same goes for friends – they have their stresses too. Would you like it if they yelled at you? No! So go easy on those who love you.

Some students are so busy with revision they have no time to eat and will hastily ram in the odd snack. Now remember how fragile your stomach was feeling because of stress? It will not appreciate this maltreatment. Of course you can take time out to eat and to eat healthily.

The other extreme is comfort eating or binging. Because you feel stressed or moody you decide a pig out on donuts, burgers or chocolate is the answer. After overloading with carbs the only thing you want to do is sleep, so you can’t study which makes you unhappy so you turn to food again.

Girls in particular are noted signs of increased irritability, moodiness and  tearfulness. Boys might  get moody and irritable but they don’t usually get tearful.  It is a horrible feeling when virtually any comment can make you cry so try to avoid stress triggers.

Getting  9.25 hours sleep a night is so important. Going to sleep is a real problem for many teenagers as they perk up during the hours of darkness and may quite happily be chatting with friends or playing on the computer well into the small hours. Some will also be working this late but it does mean that come the morning and time to g o to school they are hung over with tiredness.

A good way of making yourself feeling really tense, maybe headachy, almost certainly irritable is to work without taking breaks. For those students who sit at their desks for hour after hour make sure you take a break at least once every hour. Get up, stretch and move around. have a drink and/or a snack to sustain you during the study journey. Revision can be hungry work and you need to keep hydrated and  to get the kinks out of your muscles.

Identify triggers- think about the real causes of your stress and write them down. It’s a bit like those pre-exam worries. Yes, you are worried but can you identify them. What are your stress points: you feel you haven’t done enough revision, your parents are nagging at  you to work, you can’t find any where quiet to work, you just can’t seem to start etc. etc.

Identify what your particular stress point/points are and see what can be done about them.

You can probably never do enough revision BUT there has to be a cut off point somewhere. If you’ve covered all the topics you needed to and you did it well – enough. Take a break. You can go on and on until you confuse yourself. Let it be.

Your parents are nagging you to work – they are concerned about you and want you to do your best but perhaps in your case constant nagging is not the best way forward. How would you prefer to move forward? Perhaps tell your parents you are now going to study the following topics and you’ll let them test you later. No? They probably want to be involved so think of  some way they could help you rather than them feeling they have to provoke you into action.

You can’t find anywhere quiet to work – if you’ve got younger siblings who are playing loudly while you work, or if someone always starts hoovering or mowing the lawn just as you want to concentrate it can be tough. Number one solution is move out – just to the public or college library. Often being surrounded by all those books and other purposeful people can be doubly helpful. Otherwise try and negotiate quiet time with your family.

If getting down to work is your problem then you need to have targets for the day and a signal to get you started. I could write a book on procrastination! If you need help with this email me

So now let’s think about becoming calm.

Take a look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? I bet the expression is grim, so smile. Go on, you know you can!

Now lets look at breathing, breathe in and out very slowly. Feel yourself slowing down. You can keep smiling too while you do it.

Now, roll  your head in circles, shake out your shoulders, feel tension disappear.

vcm_s_kf_m160_84x160This is a girl doing the exercise standing up. I recommend sitting down.

If you are still feeling tense, sit on a chair and cross your legs at the ankle. Stretch out your arms in front of you with the backs of your hands  together. Now cross your wrists, interlace your fingers and bring your hands up under your chin. ( your wrists are still crossed and you are in a sort of praying position). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Keep breathing slowly until tension disappears, then slowly open your eyes and uncross hands and ankles.

Now, be positive, think only in ‘ I can’s not ‘ I cant’s. Tell all those negative thoughts chasing around in your head to go away. Think of all that you have achieved, rather than what you haven’t.

Are you being a perfectionist? For girls especially, it is important to achieve perfection, the most perfect notes ( without crossings out) the neatest files and of course, top marks. Sometimes though, a pass is good enough. You don’t always have to be top dog because you are piling the pressure on yourself and you are causing yourself stress. So yes, by all means aim high, but it doesn’t have to be perfect every time.

Do a quick assessment of how things really are not how you think they are. If you’ve got your coursework in on time – congratulate yourself. It doesn’t matter if it was by the skin of your teeth. If it hot the deadline, that’s all that matters.

Check out other areas of your life to. Don’t say ‘well I did it but it probably wasn’t my best effort’ or ‘I gave my work in but I could tell by the look on his face that my teacher didn’t rate it’. Congratulate yourself on getting work in on time rather than looking for faults.

Just before the exam: take 10 minutes and go somewhere quiet. Think about what is worrying you and write the worries down. Read through them and then throw them away. You have faced them and now you don’t want to waste valuable energy going over them again.

Be assured that you are not alone. Thousands of students are facing the same dilemma’s. There is sometimes a feeling that you are alone with your troubles – but you’re not. Go for a walk, clear your head and then plan how you are going to tackle what you have to do over the coming weeks. Above all, if you need help, seek it out, parents, teachers, counsellors and coaches are all keen to help you keep on the right track,