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Coping with Stress During Exams

Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW


The return to school following winter break can bring up a mixture of emotions.  The excitement of the holidays, sleeping in and homework free days are now in the past and the anticipation of the next few months of school is looming in the imminent future.  For some children, it is a return to the familiar classroom, teachers and academic structure.  To others, more specifically high school students, the end of winter break means the beginning of the dreaded exam period.  To many of these high school students the exams can trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, worry and even panic.


To be honest, a little anxiety and stress can actually be beneficial.  It’s what helps a student stay on track with their studies, recognize when to ask for help and keep the adrenaline going on the day of the exam to keep them alert and focused.  It’s when these feelings become so overwhelming that a student’s ability to function and retain information is compromised.  This is when it is time to take a step back and look at some strategies that can help lower the emotional intensity.


Here are some strategies that can be useful for bringing the stress levels down (also good everyday life strategies too!):


Controlled Breathing

Learning how to slow down and focus on your breathing is a strategy that has been proven to bring on more relaxation and reduction of anxiety.  It is based on the observation that when people are more anxious, they are more likely to breathe more shallowly which can lead to an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body.  Controlled breathing requires a lot practice!  Once you feel more comfortable with the breathing exercise it will be helpful to use it both before and during stressful situations (for example, when studying or writing an exam).



Make sure you are in a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.  It doesn’t matter whether your eyes are open or closed.  Do what feels right for you.  Breathe in for a slow count of 4, hold for a moment (usually a count of two) then slowly exhale for a slow count of 4.  Hold again for a moment (usually for a count of two).  It doesn’t matter whether you breathe through your mouth or nose.  Whatever feels most comfortable for you.  Make sure you practice this exercise for at least 4 minutes.


Asking for Help

If you find that you are struggling keeping up with the course material it is important to be proactive before it becomes too overwhelming.  Be honest with you teachers.  I would like to think that most are available to help you to organize how to best study for your exam, offer advice on where to get help or even give you some extra time to write the exam.  Join a study group.  Being around your peers not only allows you to pool together your knowledge but can also help keep you motivated.  Accessing tutors can also be a big help.  Teachers on Call is a business specifically available to help you to succeed.


Take Breaks

There is only so much studying an individual can do before they become mentally exhausted.  Once this happens, it becomes difficult to stay focused and retain knowledge.  To be at your most productive it is imperative that you give yourself permission to take breaks.  At least once an hour you should take some time to go for a walk, watch some television, listen to music, read, call a friend or practice your breathing exercises.  What relaxes you?  What will take your mind off of your work for even 10 minutes to help you to rejuvenate?


Proper Sleep

It is known that in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is important to get enough sleep every night.  Getting an adequate amount of sleep will have a positive impact on learning and memory.  It is recommended that teenagers ages 12-18 should sleep between 8.5-10 hours/night.


What has worked in the past?

It is important to ask yourself “what has worked for me in the past when I have felt anxious or stressed”?  Whether it’s getting ready for your ice hockey playoffs, going for your driver’s test or taking part in a job interview you have experience stressful events in your life before.  How did you cope with these feelings?  What did you do to help ease some of your anxiety?  What worked and what didn’t work?  These are important questions to ask yourself.  If it’s worked in the past, it is likely to help you in the future.


Good Luck!


Lindsay Ross is a clinical social worker working in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.  For more information on her services, please feel free to contact her at (647) 501-7220 or at lindsayross.msw@gmail.com

Posted in: Parent Education Resources, Special Education Tutoring, Toronto Tutoring

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Back to School Jitters – What Parents Can Do to Help

Featuring: Lindsay Ross, MSW,RSW

As the end of summer quickly approaches, many children start to experience the usual feelings of nervous excitement that come with the impending first day back at school.  Whether it’s the start of kindergarten or the first day of high school, it is normal for kids to worry about the unknowns of a brand new school year.  These worries often include:

1)      Will I like my teacher(s)? Will my teacher(s) like me?

2)      Will my friends still like me after the summer? Will I meet new friends?

3)      What if I get teased or bullied?

4)      Will I achieve academically? Can I manage my course load? Am I taking the right courses?

So how can parents support their children through these last few days of summer and with the transition back to school?  Here are some general strategies that parents can use to help ease their child’s anxiety as they embark on a new school year:


Stay Calm

Children, both young and old, are extremely in-tune with their parent’s emotions.  If you are openly anxious and worried about the transition back to school then your child will most likely pick up on that nervous energy.  They will start believing that if mom and dad are worried then there must be a good reason.  Try and stay calm.


Stay Positive and Normalize their Feelings

A new year often means new challenges and opportunities.  Remind your children of their past successes as well as their skills.  Communicating to your child that you believe in their strengths and capabilities can help boost their confidence and feelings of self-worth.  Explain to your kids that what they are feeling is completely normal.


Visit the School

Familiarizing yourself with your new surroundings can remove a lot of undue stress.  If your child is entering into a new school, go for a tour.  Locate your classroom, gym and cafeteria.  Getting lost on the first day is very common.  If you know where some important landmarks are located, you are already ahead of the game.


Meet with your Teacher(s)

If you know who your teachers will be in advance, it can be helpful to book a meeting with them before the start of the school year.  Have your child prepare some questions that they may want to ask their teacher, for example, how to access extra help if needed or how to let the teacher know if certain academic or social issues arise.  Allowing your child to prepare and ask questions will encourage your child’s building of autonomy and self-confidence.


Meeting with the School Guidance Counsellor

If your child requires special school accommodations, it will be important to meet with the school guidance counsellor to organize a plan, or at least get the ball rolling, prior to the start of school.  Creating a realistic and structured plan can relieve a lot of stress and worry.  If the plan meets the child’s needs, they will feel that they have been taken seriously and supported by their school.


Be Available to Talk to your Kids

You are the expert on your children and the most important support system in their lives.  Frequently reminding your children that you are always available to talk about both the good and the bad opens the door for communication.  Put down your cell phone, turn off your computer and television and make sure that every day you devote some quality time to be with your kids.  They need to know that they are your number one priority.

Lindsay Ross is a clinical social worker working in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.  For more information on her services, please feel free to contact her at (647) 501-7220 or at lindsayross.msw@gmail.com

Posted in: Parent Education Resources, Special Education Tutoring

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