By Youthrive Psychologist Kasey Lloyd
Stress is an individual’s response to pressure. A little stress is a good thing – it helps us realise the importance of something and assists us to perform at our best. But too much stress is detrimental to both performance and our physical and mental health. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to stress during assessment periods, when assignments are due and exams are closing in.
What does stress look like?
School stress manifests differently in different people. Your child may be more irritable and moody. They may have trouble falling asleep, or getting out of bed in the morning. They may ask for days off school, often to ‘catch up’ on school work. Physical symptoms such as headaches, tense muscles, and an upset stomach may also be present. Your teenager is likely to articulate the feeling by saying something like “I’m so stressed/overwhelmed” or “I’ve got so much work to do.”
Why are teens so stressed?
There is a myriad of reasons why teens feel highly stressed in the lead up to assessment periods. Some students feel immense pressure (from their families, teachers, or themselves) to achieve a certain grade, with the belief that anything less will dash their hopes and dreams (spoiler: it rarely does). Some find their school work difficult, and struggle to understand what they’re learning or how best to study. Some students are busy with extra-curricular activities, such as sport, cultural, or citizenship pursuits and struggle to find the time (and yes, some spend far too much time scrolling through Instagram or playing Fortnite).
What can I do to help my teen overcome school stress?
Prevention is always better than a cure – and the best way to combat school/exam stress is proper preparation. This includes completing all assignments and homework, completing any exam revision or practice tests provided by teachers, and revising topics learnt in class. Unfortunately, by the time assessment stress is at its peak, it may be too late for a well-organised study plan complete with flash cards, colour-coded mind maps, and various shades of fluorescent highlighter.
If your child has reached this point and is feeling unprepared, try to avoid saying “Well you should’ve started studying for this earlier instead of XYZ.” Chances are they know this, and it’s going to do little to alleviate their stress – it certainly won’t help your relationship either. Instead, you can assist by:
1. Offering help
If they’re preparing for an exam that requires memorising facts, definitions, or formulas, offer to quiz them. If they’re completing an assignment, offer to read through it (even if you have no clue about the topic, a layperson’s eyes can assist with spelling, punctuation, grammar, or sentences that just don’t make sense).
2. Creating a study schedule
Teens may find it helpful to sit down with a parent, teacher, or school counsellor and create a study schedule – often seeing how much time there is in a day alleviates some stress immediately.
3. Setting up a study space
Assist them to set up a productive study space, and do your best to keep siblings away from their study area.
4. Encouraging healthy eating
Provide nourishing meals and snacks, and encourage them to drink water (while energy drinks provide a quick burst of energy, they can lead to either a sugar crash or over-stimulation and poor concentration – avoid!)
5. Reminding them to take a break
Remind your child to take breaks, and emphasise the importance of sleep.
6. Removing distractions
Dare you offer to hold on to their mobile phone for an agreed period of time so they’re not tempted by social media? I’ll leave that one up to you!
Ultimately, their stress levels will generally return to normal – as the old adage goes: ‘This too shall pass.’ However, if you are concerned that your child is overly stressed or their exam/school stress extends beyond assessment periods, it may be best to seek advice from your GP or consult a mental health professional.
To find out more about how psychology could help your child, click here.