GCSE season is upon us; hints and tips to help your teen manage stress and thrive
Updated: May 20
We are all familiar with the words “I am stressed”, “I am feeling so stressed right now” or “I’m anxious” and during exam time we may hear this frequently from our teens. We often assume stressed means an overwhelming struggle to manage. But did you know that stress is not all bad, in fact stress can be a good thing?
Stress was first talked about in the 1930s when researchers found that subjecting animals (mainly rats) to harsh and distressing events had an impact upon their well-being and physical health. From these cruel experiments, the term stress started being used to reflect the impact the distressing events “stress” had on the animals. The definition of stress was developed to reflect the response of the animal to demands placed upon it. It is true that extremely distressing events can have a huge negative impact on physical and mental well-being, but it is not the case that all demands are harmful. In fact, our minds and bodies can do really well when demands are placed on them, and it is an important part of finding willpower and motivation to start and see-through important tasks. It can help to think of stress as a kind of positive energy that helps us to do things in life.
Researchers have found that optimal performance needs some stress. If stress is too low there is not enough energy to get us started and to keep us motivated. If stress is too high, we also perform poorly because we have too much of the energy and get overwhelmed.
So what can we as parents do to help our teens feel the right amount of stress to realise their potential in exams – not too little, not too much?
1. Work with your teen to determine what makes the most supportive and calm learning environment for them to do their work. Ideas might include a dedicated space in the home either in their room or somewhere else where they can focus on work without distractions, where they can stick up reminders, mind maps and other revision tools. Be mindful to offer support, guidance and encouragement for them to do well but be careful not to step into telling them things that might increase stress, such as making them worry about failure. This will only lead to more stress and may tip them into feeling overwhelmed.
2. Be aware of yours and your teens mindset about stress. Help them to think of stress as the helpful energy they need to do well instead of thinking or believing stress is harmful and feeling stressed will mean you will not do well. Help your teen to think “I am stressed and I am going to use this positive energy to focus on my exams and work”.
3. If your teen says “I am too stressed”, before jumping in to say “calm down”, or offer reassurance such as “you will be fine, there is no need to fuss” take a moment to be curious about what they are experiencing. Let them know stress is a positive energy. If they become overwhelmed you can teach them simple grounding techniques to bring a sense of calm. I describe how your teen can do this another of my posts about how to manage feeling panic. How to cope when you start to feel panic in an exam (drbeck.co.uk)
4. Sharing experiences keep stress in the helpful zone. Throughout the exam period allow your teen to make time to meet up with friends, have a laugh and enjoy being together knowing you are all going through the same thing.
5. As parents you can reduce stress by simply coming alongside them. Their brain will register you are there and stress will start to reduce without you saying or doing anything. Perhaps ask your teen if you can sit alongside them when they are watch TV, or go for a walk together, eat a meal together. They will be able to use you as a stress reducing resource, without you or them actually knowing this is happening. That's an amazing parent superpower.
Want to know more?
These are suggestions about things you can do to support your teen. Please comment below if you try these things and let me know how they worked out for you and your family.
You can also email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Instagram @blooming.gcses with any questions, comments or with anything else you would like to learn about.
Dr Beck x