Exam stress? 5 easy ways to reduce nerves

Ahh, Springtime!  The birds are singing, little shoots are pushing up from the earth,and all over the country kids are preparing to take exams – from the dreaded SATs to GSCEs and A-levels – it can be a tricky time in the most resilient of families.  Whether you are helping your offspring to write their umpteenth revision plan or taking their mind off the upcoming tests, here are 5 simple ways of helping to reduce the onset of anxiety.  These can be used in the classroom or even in the exam room to eliminate those butterflies.

1  Breathe.   – Simple, right?  Well, perhaps not so simple as by the time kids are nearing the end of primary school, their breathing has often lost the deep full breathing of early childhood.  Breathing fully into the belly, ribs and chest on the inhale and a full slow release allows the whole nervous system to calm down.  Show them how – Lie down, pop something on the belly – a cuddly toy for younger children, or their hands for older children and teens, and let them watch their belly rise up on the in breath and fall on the out breath.  Once they have the hang of this they can practice anywhere, even sitting in the classroom.

2   Hand gestures.  – no, not those ones!  In yoga we use Mudras, or special ways of making shapes with the hands to create a way of feeling.  My daughter likes to use Mushti Mudra when she is feeling anxious.  Tuck your thumb into the palm of your hand, and wrap the fingers around it, like a fist.  Breathe deep – as above.  This creates a grounded, centred feeling which helps to relieve anxiety.

3  Affirmations – I bet you know that the stories we tell ourselves are the ones we believe.  I get up extra early on a Monday morning and when I tell myself  “I’m soooo tired” – lo and behold, I feel tired all day.  When I say “I feel great!” (even when I don’t) – my day gets a bit brighter.  As the kids say to themselves, “I’m nervous, I’m worried, I can’t do this”, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  Help your child to affirm themselves every day – I watch my girls grow physically taller when they say to themselves “I am confident like a giant”.   You can help too – talk to your child positively, rather than “don’t worry”, say something like “I think you are doing really well, keep it up”  – so they have a something positive to hang their thoughts on.  It’s important to really believe what you are saying as kids see through us like we are transparent if we are insincere!   Try out different affirmations and find the one that really works for your child.  Print it on a card so they can carry it in their pocket as a reminder.

4  Shake it off!  You probably know physical exercise is hugely beneficial in managing stress, but what if your child doesn’t have the time or inclination to run around a field or attend a full yoga class?  Get dancing and shaking – especially shake the worries out through the hands and the feet.   Give them a really good shake out through the system and then try being still for a couple of breaths and see how you feel.

5  Tapping .  A couple of years ago, I was asked to present about relaxation skills for children on behalf of Relax Kids to an audience of about 200 teachers and support workers.  That certainly made me anxious!  Before I went on, I used the tips of my fingers to gently tap on my chest up to my collar bones and slowly was able to feel calmer.  Kids can tap out a beat, or pretend that they are typing a message of reassurance out.   Even better, they can tap out their affirmation.

These are all techniques that children can subtly use to release nervousness and exam stress, even while sitting at the exam table.  Practice them all daily in the weeks before the exams to get in a more relaxed frame of mind!   If you can enrol your child in a local childrens yoga or Relax Kids class, then that’s a great way for your child to learn how to relax ahead of  and during the exam season.

Claire has been teaching yoga since 2006, yoga to children since 2010 and trained as a Relax Kids coach in 2012.   Claire runs yoga classes for adults, children and families in Beckenham and South East London as part of YogaBright.

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