Staying well in the exam season

Exams-Set-Go! The quickstart guide to exam prep without tears

We’ve looked at the “why” and “what” of planning, and yesterday we explored the “how” of revision. But with all this focus on work, it’s no wonder young people and those around them find this a stressful time. So how can we keep our teenagers and ourselves as well as possible during the exam season? Well of course there are two main aspects of health: physical and mental. We all have them, at varying levels, and they’re much more closely intertwined than may people think.

Physically, students need to be getting enough sleep (hopefully that’s already in their plan from Monday), drinking enough water and eating the right foods. There’s been a lot written about “brain foods” but generally the normal advice for a healthy, balanced diet still applies at exam time. The water is especially important, as the brain has been shown to perform less well when dehydrated. So too much caffeine is out, as not only does it dehydrate but can also heighten stress and anxiety.

Fruit and workspace

So, what’s the equivalent of 5-a-day for our mental health? Well that’s the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. This is a well-researched set of five things that we should all try and fit into our lives every day:

Connect

Connecting and feeling valued by other people is a fundamental human need. So try and encourage your teenager to come out of their room every now and then and connect with family, even if it’s just at meal times, Make sure they’re communicating with friends too, even if only online. This is all useful: if they’ve got a problem, they need someone they can share it with, and it doesn’t have to be you.

Be Active

We all know that being active is great for our physical health, but we don’t always think about the benefits for our mental health. So get your teenager out walking the dog… any excuse to get them out and moving! Feeling the sun on your face is a great uplift for anybody, and even the rain can change your perspective. This leads on to…

Take Notice

This is about becoming aware of what’s going on around us, both in our environment and in ourselves (our thoughts and emotions). Mindfulness is a great practice for learning to do this; it’s my favourite method of stressbusting. It can take a while to learn, but there are some useful quick and simple strategies that anyone can use. The 7-11 is one example: in this exercise, we’re taking notice of our breath – all we do is count to 7 as we breathe in and count to 11 as we breathe out – easy huh? It doesn’t matter how fast we breathe, or even if we run out of breath and have to speed up our counting! We’re not trying to do deep yogic breathing here; all we’re doing is shifting our attention from thoughts flying around in our brains, to simple counting. It’s amazing how this simple technique can slow down the breathing, reduce the heart rate and make us feel calmer. It’s a great thing to do just before an exam and it also works in the middle of an argument – try it!

Keep Learning

Of course students are doing a lot of learning, but learning doesn’t just take place in study. Life-wide learning means that we can learn from everything in our lives, and that includes the boring part-time job, the family negotiations and time spent online. Setting life goals is a great way to manage and keep track of your own learning.

Give

It’s been shown that people feel happier if they help other people. This might be a great way to get some chores done around the home(!) but really any kind of community engagement or random acts of kindness can be helpful for that warm sense of wellbeing.

Five ways to wellbeing

So today’s challenge, of course, is linked to the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. Look them up online (the Mind website is particularly good) and then come up with some ideas for things that you can both do to help with your wellbeing. Your lists might be different and that’s fine – get everyone in the household involved in creating their own ways to wellbeing. You might even find you have a slightly more harmonious household over the next few weeks.

Read this next! Part 4: Insider secrets of the Exam Boards

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