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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

Pupils Advised To Use Mindfulness For Exam Stress

As the exam season is fast approaching, parents, pupils, and teachers are all feeling under extra strain this year. It will be the first time that some pupils in the 14-18 age group have sat formal public exams for three years, which is understandably making them more anxious than usual.

The increased pressure for university places, the disrupted educational experience over the last two years, and government promises to crack down on grade inflation, are all adding up to a pressure-cooker situation. Teachers are reporting higher levels of anxiety and unhelpful behaviours among students than ever before, according to a recent report in The Guardian.

Glyn Potts, the headteacher of Newman Roman Catholic college in Oldham, told the publication: “We’ve got more young people who are anxious than we would normally have. We have got some students who are desperate to do very, very well.”

He added: “They fear they are not going to get the grades they should be getting because of the disruption, and because [of the grade] inflation over the last two years. We’ve also seen a huge number of doctor or CAMHS [child mental health services]-related feedback to parents … requesting children should have a room of their own for the exams.”

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (OFQUAL) has issued guidance for teachers and pupils who are struggling to cope with the demands of exam pressure. As well as ensuring that students are as academically well prepared as possible, it emphasises the importance of maintaining a healthy eating and exercise routine.

The OFQUAL advice also outlines the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques for tackling stress and anxiety. CBT is a way of learning to recognise and challenge unhelpful or negative thoughts, and turn them into neutral or positive statements. This can help with motivation and concentration levels.

Pupils are advised to learn some CBT techniques in advance of the exam day, so that they can draw on their skills and take control of their thoughts and emotions if they need to. Critical self-thoughts can be replaced with some kinder and more helpful statements, which have been prepared in advance.

Some people find it easier to imagine how they would talk to a close friend or loved one, and use the same language to talk to themselves. Others might find it reassuring to remind themselves that they successfully handled a similar situation before, or that their anxiety is fleeting, and will pass sooner or later.

Deep breathing techniques, also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing, can be useful to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. It involves taking at least six slow deep breaths in a row, inhaling from deep in the abdominal area, and exhaling in a slow controlled manner. This allows more oxygen to reach the brain, and facilitates clearer thinking.

If you are interested in learning more about the different types of CBT or mindfulness techniques for exam stress, or another psychological problem, you could consider getting in touch with a mindful therapist based in London.

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