5 Coping Strategies For Exam Stress And Anxiety
Examination time can be very stressful for students. However, teaching your child these 5 coping strategies for exam stress can help him cut down the stress and do well in exams.
By Aparna Samuel Balasundaram
Exams are a part of life – a normal and necessary part of our rites of passage. However, when exams are perceived as ‘monsters and death traps’ that one cannot escape, it causes our minds to view them as a weakening threat. The problem is not with ‘exams’ per se, but rather with the exaggerated and negative way we think and feel about exams.
Many children while facing exams, especially board exams, wonder, “Do I know enough?”, “What questions will feature in the paper?”, “What if I do badly?” or “What if I fail?” It is easy to get stuck in a downward spiral, end up in a panic situation and finally blank out in the examination hall!
Based on scientific research from the field of educational psychology, these five coping strategies for exam stress can be very useful to every child:
1. Positive thinking – Research has proved that when we positively ‘re-frame’ the way we think, it impacts the way we feel and act. Instead of viewing exam as a ‘threat’ – like a tsunami that is going to unleash its fury and suck us in – we need to re-frame our thinking to view exam as a ‘challenge’. This will help us conquer examination stress, much like we would get excited about preparing to conquer a mountain – making it a motivating and exciting challenge.
2. Visualising success – As your child prepares for her exams by reading and learning content, let her also prepare and strengthen her mind! One way to do that is by visualising success. Let her think of a time she accomplished something that gave her a sense of pride, achievement or happiness. Make her close her eyes and run that event in her mind, capturing how that made her feel. This becomes her snapshot moment of success – one that she can recall when she feels that stress is coming on. What she would be effectively doing is telling her brain that she is capable, courageous and confident – that she has tasted success before and she can do so again.
3. Meditation and relaxation – If your child feels anxious or panicky during exams, his mind might start racing. Negative thoughts such as – “I can't do this!” or “I'm going to fail” could begin rising in his mind. During such times, ask him to make a conscious effort to close his eyes and take in slow, deep breaths, hold his breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly. The recommended formula is 4–7–8. Breathe in through the nose for a count of 4. Then hold the breath for a count of 7 and finally release the breath through the mouth for a count of 8. At a physiological level this will start calming him down. After doing this 2–3 times, he should consciously recall and visualise his moments of success. The third step is to start telling himself positive and assuring thoughts like, “I know this is just panic”, “I can do it”, ”I can calm down” and “I know it is all going to be well”. Once he feels that his anxiety has decreased, he can continue with answering the questions.
4. Bridging objects – The psychology behind a ‘lucky’ charm that many successful people use, can be explained by the concept of a ‘bridging object’. Essentially when we carry/wear an object that has a positive association with a person, event or place - touching that object can be calming. At times when we feel anxious, it can provide us with a sense of security. At the same time, the caution is that one should not be over dependent on such an object to the point that we cannot function if that object were to get lost/broken!
5. Sowing the ‘SEED’ – Apart from the cognitive strategies already discussed, the SEED strategy focusses on the physiological aspects of – Sleep, Exercise, Eating healthy and Dealing with distractions. What this means is that even though your child may be tempted to, she must not fall prey to – sleeping less, eating junk food, not going out to play/exercise and giving in to long unproductive distractions. In the long run, not taking care of these basics will cost her dearly. A healthy lifestyle – balancing diet, sleep and exercise - is the cornerstone to reducing examination stress.
The bottom line is the fact that facing exams is a universal truth of life! The other universal truth is the fact that there is life after exams! So, while the present scenario of facing exams seems intense, it too will pass! Once your child makes a purposeful decision to change his attitude about exams, he will feel more confident, calm and capable of conquering examination stress!
Stressed about exams? Call our Counsellors on 8754414666 / 044-66236611 in Feb (Tues & Fri, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.)
About the author:Written by Aparna Samuel Balasundaram on 4 October 2017.
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram – is an award winning Psychotherapist, Parent and Child Expert, with 10 years of experience in the USA. She is the Founder of Life Skills Experts that enables parents and teachers to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.LifeSkillsExperts.com. She is also the Founder of ‘A Flourishing Me’, that offers contemporary Counselling and Parent and Life Coaching [www.AFlourishing.me]
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 31 January 2020.
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