It felt like a bit of a breakthrough a couple of weeks ago when one of the Sixth Formers asked me to put together some advice on ‘mindfulness and coping with exam stress’ for the school newspaper.
As this is the last week of term for many schools in the UK, and the Easter holidays is generally a time when our children start to think about their revision in earnest, I thought it may be useful to share the advice in a blog post too.
Hopefully then, at an opportune moment, parents and teachers reading this blog may be able to mention these suggestions to the young people in their lives.
When they are revising remind your loved ones to:
1. Get outside. Scientific research shows that even just 10 minutes of fresh air a day can have a positive impact on mood and well-being. Getting outside can clear the head, especially if it is a mindful 10 minutes. To do this the person should go for a walk without purpose and try and be as curious as possible about what is around them:
•See the environment with fresh eyes and try to connect with their other senses too.
•What do their feet feel like as they touch the ground?
•Tune into the noises – in front, behind, above and below.
Often after a mindful walk people feel refreshed and ready to return to work. They can feel calmer too.
2. Do a 3-step breathing space at different times in the day. This involves:
•1 Taking a moment to sit or stand still (this can easily be done whilst standing in a queue or sitting on a bus) and ‘check in’ with yourself. Noticing what feelings and thoughts there are right in that moment without judging them.
• 2 – Locating where the breath is felt most in the body at that given time and just observing it for a few moments.
•3 – Continuing to notice the breath whilst spending time silently moving their awareness from the feet all the way up to the head – scanning for any areas of tension.
Emphasise how many people in all walks of life – MPs, corporate bankers, IT workers, sportspeople – find this particular mindfulness strategy hugely helpful day-to-day. This then begins to normalise living mindfully to your loved one and may help them be less sceptical.
3. Keep a gratitude log. When days are filled with revision it can sometimes be tricky to keep positive. So scientific research has shown that if people regularly make a note of 3 – 5 things from the day that they appreciate then these will help keep them in a better, more upbeat mood. They can be very specific and seemingly small e.g. thanking someone for making a drink for them during the day or writing how lovely it was to to get outside in the warm sunshine at lunchtime.
In or just before the exam encourage the use of:
4. The STOP coping strategy. If someone starts to feel stressed during an exam then they could just take a moment to STOP.
This stands for:
•Taking time to locate the breath and just engaging with it for a moment or two (inwardly saying ‘in’ and ‘out’ in time with the breath may help too)
•Observing thoughts and emotions but not trying to change them
•Proceeding with kindness to themselves and hopefully a renewed ‘can do’ approach to the task in front of them.
5. Finger breathing. This is a very simple grounding technique to stop the mind playing tricks on us and all sorts of catastrophic outcomes being imagined from one sticky few minutes in an exam. Sometimes simply using a finger from the dominant hand to trace round the digits of the other hand can really help. The trick is to make sure that the person breathes in on an upward movement and out on the downward movement. This immediately brings the mind back to the present rather than looking ahead to the future (which may not be helpful at that particular moment). This seems to be lots of young people’s ‘go to’ practice to help calm nerves!
Good luck to all of those who are doing exams this summer. If this is you, or you are a parent of a child doing exams this summer, you may also find the following posts helpful.