Here in Ireland, there is a huge amount of stress on our teenagers in relation to exams. For some it starts when they are in 1st or 2nd year of Secondary School, I get clients coming to me for life coaching, from the age of 12 suffering from exam stress. Yes, 1st years, who are suffering horrendous stress due to upcoming or ongoing exams in school. They worry themselves sick about each ‘important’ exam. For others it only kicks in during exam year or the final year – the dreaded Leaving Cert year.
Then there is also the study motivation. I get to see a lot of these teenagers too. The one’s who can’t study, won’t study, don’t know how to start to study… it is equally as stressful, as it is for those who have their heads in the books. It is very stressful for the parents of these teenagers as they feel the potential of their child slipping away as each week passes and no work seems to be done. I have worked with the parents too!
No matter where you, or your teenager is at, they can get help to feel better. Here are a few tips for each group:
- What are you telling yourself? If you are saying to yourself ‘I can’t study’, ‘I don’t know where to start’ or something similar, you have to realize what you are saying and reprogramme your mind. (Start to catch yourself and replace the negative with a more positive statement).
- Remember all the classes you have sat in, and paid attention in? (hopefully there have been quite a few and its never too late to start to listen in class) and also remember all the homework you have ever done? This is all information and knowledge that you have in your memory. You have started already, there is a base of knowledge there, so don’t tell yourself you haven’t started unless you know absolutely nothing about any subject.
- Change your mindset: Clarify your goal in your mind, what do you really want to do when you finish school, what ever it is – use that goal to motivate yourself every time you sit down and open your books. Link the two things together. Try to link the studying to your future goal, what you really want. The more study, the more chance of getting what you want. Therefore, study is good (not bad.) Start to want to study, really want it, want it as much as you want to reach that goal. Visualize yourself doing what you want after school (your goal), and then visualize yourself studying – one will lead to the next.
- Draw up a realistic study timetable. One that is practical and flexible that allows you have down time but also that gets you into good habits. Ask for help to do this if you can’t do it yourself.
- Put important diagrams, acronyms, and summaries all over your bedroom, the fridge, the internal doors, (better ask your Parents or guardians before hand, but tell them it will sink more easily into your subconscious mind if you are seeing it all the time.) I know a Leaving cert student who had all his biology diagrams plastered all over the bathroom!
- Figure out how best to study; for some it’s reading, for others it’s writing things out, highlighting, summarizing, and using acronyms (using the first letter of the important words to come up with a word, or saying, to remember it). Answering exam questions with the books open, is a good way to start. If so far you have done very little but you start with exam questions you are going to cover a lot of material very quickly.
- The worst thing you can do is nothing, so even a move in the right direction is better than continuing to stress over how little you have done.
- Similar to the first point above, what are you telling yourself? If you are saying things like ‘I’ll never get through everything’; or ‘I haven’t done enough’ then you need to start to catch yourself. Change it to something more positive like ‘I can do it’ or ‘I’m doing my best’. Remember we cause a lot of our own stress – by allowing thoughts into our heads and not letting them go.
- Who or what is causing you more stress? Is it a Parent? A Teacher? A well meaning friend discussing what topics they’ve covered/ or cramming and stressing you out with their panic? Or is it the pressure you are putting yourself under? Start to become aware of what triggers your stress, the person, the discussions, talk to that person if you can and ask them to help you. Give yourself positive messages and affirmations – see point 1.
- Remember all the classes you have listened in, and the homework you have done. There is a huge amount of information to retain but you have covered a lot in a year and a half, it is in your memory, it hasn’t all just gone out of your head. We have amazing minds. Do some memory games (find an app on your phone) to sharpen your memory, and try to trust that you have a lot of information already there.
- If you are studying a lot, remember to look after your mental and physical health too. Physical exercise is very important to keep the mind at its peak. Also a good diet with fresh fruit and veg and water keeps our bodies happier.
- A good nights sleep is so important for the memory (as well as for our concentration). Put the screens away at least an hour before you want to be asleep. Really try to sleep with screens in a different room. Get an old fashioned alarm clock. Don’t stay up late the night before an exam, it affects your memory.
- If you are stressed, do whatever relaxes you. Try to meditate or do some relaxing yoga or tai chi. This helps us get out of our heads. Anything with deep breathing is really good for us to get away from the stress and inner chitter chatter.
To all the parents, all you can do is be as encouraging, loving and helpful as possible. Remember not to add to the stress by nagging about studying, or having a go about the state of their bedroom/desk etc. It is a really tough time, bite your tongue (again). Help them have a quiet place to study, and be ready with their favorite food, drinks and hugs (if they’ll let you!)
Finally, my heart goes out to all the stressed teenagers, I get to meet quite a few in my work, but I want to help more… so I have 2 guided meditations that you can have for free. They have been written by me specifically to help the listener to relax and get the right message into their subconscious – one is for exam stress, and the other, for study motivation. They are very useful to help with each specific issue, and also to help to get a good nights sleep, when you’ve a lot on your mind. (I’m also starting a teen blog so further tips and help will be available when they are downloaded.)
I also coach teenagers face to face and over skype, if you would like to book a session please click here, or get in touch by phone or email. Please like, share, comment and pass this on to all those who could benefit from it. Thank you very much.
Best of luck to the students and the parents!
Caoimhe O’Grady Tegart
Child and Teen Lifecoach
The Confidence Clinic