So I thought I’d put together a quick blog today to offer some tips on what to do if your child is struggling with exam anxiety.
Anxiety is the body’s fight or flight mechanism kicking in and responding to what it perceives to be danger. When triggered, it causes a number of biological responses that get our bodies in a peak state to either fight or run away. In the past this would have been useful in helping us to escape predators, but in the modern world, it can get triggered unnecessarily. And when it does get triggered, a part of your brain called the amygdala releases cortisol, which causes you to have a dry mouth, feel like you need to go the toilet and you suddenly develop an overwhelming desire to run away from the situation.
Exam anxiety is perfectly normal. Just take a moment to look around, recognise there’s nothing to fear (no sabre-tooth tigers creeping into the exam hall!), thank your body for doing its job to protect you, and move on to phase 2: Deactivating the fight or flight response through…
When we get anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and we feel like we’re not getting a full breath. This is true! So override that mechanism by engaging in “box breathing”; a technique used in the military to help calm nerves before battle:
– Inhale through the nose and count to 4 in your head.
– Hold the breath for 4.
– Exhale through the mouth for 4.
– Hold for 4.
Repeat this process for around 5 minutes, or until the exam anxiety has quietly subsided.
Curiosity – Is this a real threat or just my fight or flight response kicking in? Where do I feel the anxiety in my body? How would I describe the sensation?
Courage – What you resist persists. Don’t try to fight exam anxiety, just lean into it. Focus on the feelings, and they will slowly start to fade away.
Compassion – Anxious people can be hard on themselves. Remember, it’s not your fault. We all experience anxiety to some extent. Just relax, and let it pass.
Best of luck with your exams class of 2023!!
Dan Licence, Consultant & Mental health coach