While it’s great exams are going ahead this summer – particularly after they’ve been cancelled for the last two years due to the pandemic – it can cause stress for young people, potentially affecting their mental and physical health.
“It’s normal for your child to feel worried about exams, especially if they feel under pressure from school or family,” says Stevie Goulding, parent helpline manager at YoungMinds.
“Exam stress can cause young people to feel anxious or depressed, and this might affect their sleeping or eating habits.
If you recognise any of these feelings in your child, or are worried exam pressure is taking over their life, there are things you can do to help them.”
These are some of the potential symptoms of exam stress…
Aside from staying up all hours revising, the added stress and anxiety of exams can make young people feel tired and grumpy, warns YoungMinds – and even potentially cause sleeping problems.
2. Dry mouth
Studies show stress, anxiety and depression can reduce the flow of saliva, leading to a dry mouth.
If a youngster is sweating more than usual or getting very hot, it could be another sign of anxiety, says YoungMinds.
4. Difficulty concentrating
This is another anxiety symptom, and a particularly worrying one when teenagers need to concentrate to study.
Young people who are stressed or anxious may feel their heart beating really fast, or could even think they’re having a heart attack, says YoungMinds.
6. Eating and digestive problems
Exam stress might make teenagers lose their appetite, or even lead to overeating. “Stress can cause a young person’s body to go into a fight-flight-freeze response, a type of stress response that instantly causes hormonal and physiological changes,” says Rebecca Wilkinson-Quinn of the children’s mental health charity Place2Be.
“For example, when a young person experiences stress, their digestive system may slow down, which can result in aches and problems going to the toilet.
On the other hand, stress can also speed up their digestive system, which can cause an upset stomach and may lead to frequent toilet visits.”
7. Muscle tension
Muscle tension is one way your body responds to feelings of anxiety, says YoungMinds. Feeling tense because of exam stress can lead to muscle aches and pains, including backache and headaches.
What can parents and carers do?
“If your child experiences these symptoms, it doesn’t mean they definitely have an anxiety problem – but if any of them are affecting their everyday life, it’s a good idea for them to talk to someone about it,” stresses Goulding.
“Encourage your child to let their trusted friends and family know they’re struggling, so they can be there to support them and offer a listening ear. Keeping it all in could make things worse in the long run.”
Goulding points out teachers may also be able to offer support, and encouraging teens to go to a study group with friends may also help them to work through problems, keep a social life going and boost their morale.
She adds: “Remind your child exam results don’t define who they are – they might be the comedian in the family, the person their friends come to for life advice, or something else.
“Remember your child’s life outside of exams is important, too – make a list with them of all the things they enjoy, and help them find time to do them. This can reduce their stress levels, improve their mood, and help them feel refreshed and relaxed.”