09 May Teen Stress Busters
Teen stress is inevitable, but it can be better managed so kids get more sleep and do better in exams. Laura Walsh, the founder of www.lifeshift.me and a holder of Masters degrees in Sports Science, Psychology and Counseling and is a NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Strength and Conditioning Coach (CSCS), gives us one big tip to banish ‘the exam choke’.
Being a teenager is never going to be easy, regardless of where you live or when you were one. For starters, the only other time your brain grows or changes this much was in your first year of life. All those synaptic connections made in the last decade are now starting to be ‘pruned’, meaning anything your brain does not think it needs to know, will be disposed of.
Next come the hormonal changes, fast and furious. This transition stage of moving from a child to an adult requires an increase in hormonal secretions, causing all sorts of emotional and physical changes. Add to this the increased exposure to chemicals in the environment and food, increases in parental stress, peer pressure, competition in schools and generally feeling like you have to be the best at everything, and even the most balanced of people could become imbalanced.
So what to do? For one thing, the stress is not going away. If anything, the world will probably become an ever-faster place to be in the future. What you can do is acquire some tools in order to cope with the stress. In other words, you learn to control your response to the stress and not let stress control you.
One place kids acutely feel the stress is writing exams. Even after preparing really well, when they sit down to write, their minds go blank. None of the questions look familiar and they can’t seem to remember a thing. Staring at the paper, listening to their pounding heart and gasps for breath. It’s their worst nightmare come true.
When writing exams, we require our short term or working memories (located in the prefrontal cortex) to be fully functioning. Too much stress equals a shut down in the very area of the brain you need to do well in an exam.
Some tips in combatting this are to practice under pressure by writing mock exams before you actually take the big one. Write down all your thoughts and worries five minutes before taking the real exam. Take a few moments and deep breaths before rushing to begin. Outsource your cognitive load. If you’re writing a math exam involving many steps, write these down before you begin. And finally, write down all the things you are besides a student such as a daughter, son, brother, sister, friend, athlete etc. Getting the worries out of your prefrontal cortex frees it up for the exam. Good luck!