For most young people the first brush they have with overwhelming anxiety is around exam season and the lead up to it. Often teachers will begin to reinforce the importance of GCSEs or A-levels a full year before they are set to commence and that pressure can be mirrored at home where parents and family members remind them that they need to do well in order to get to the next academic stage. This extra worry, stacked ontop of usual teenage stress can cause a tinder box of emotion, where merely the thought of an exam or revision can send a young person into panic mode.
It is not uncommon to hear around the exam lead up of teens struggling to sleep properly, finding themselves unable to focus on work, feeling clouded with a sense of dread or experiencing panic attacks for the first time. Being bombarded with all these intense emotions can feel really scary and in a time where this young person already feels a bit out of control, the idea of not being in control of your own body or mind can feel really frightening.
As an adult onlooker it can often be hard to remember quite how difficult this time is for young people and easy to forget that we know what life is like post exam results, whether they were good or not. Education is also often portrayed as a formulaic, linear process where we meet one requirement in order to continue onto the next stage. In times where GCSEs or A Levels are looming it can feel as though if you don’t meet the mark you need all will be lost.
The cultures within family structures can also add a lot of pressure when it comes to exams, whether you are part of a gifted family or you are the first one aiming to get to uni, the expectation of parents, siblings and the wider family can play a huge part. It is important to remember that all is not lost if you dont meet the grades you are expecting or aiming towards. Although it is a pain, there is always the possibility of redoing most things in life- exams included.
Sometimes there is a sense that we should never be stressed and that in order to have good mental health we should feel happy and relaxed all the time and that if we are feeling worried then we are somehow broken. It is worth remembering that once exams are over (or if you are particularly anxious, and the results are back) the feelings of being acutely stressed will subside. One of the few things that is good about exam related stress is that it is time limited and once the work is over you can relax a bit. In times of really heightened emotion it can be useful to remember that these feelings will pass, even if at the time they feel like they won’t! It is also important to understand that almost everyone gets overwhelmed when they have exams or tests and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the same way.
In the midst of exam season, make sure you manage your time and take regular breaks, move away from your work space when not working and allow yourself proper down time when not revising. If it is possible, have a dedicated place to work away from your room or even your house so that you can properly switch off when the revision stops. Taking care of basic functions should also not be overlooked, getting enough nutrition, sleep and exercise becomes all the more important when you are feeling overwhelmed.
However, if you feel that you are finding exams particularly difficult to cope with or have a young person in your life who is really struggling, now may be a time to reach out and find some help.
At The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of therapists trained to work with children and young adults who will be able to provide an outlet to explore how their client is feeling and how best to cope in this heightened time. Why not get in touch today and see if talk therapy would be beneficial to you