Taking the Stress out of Exam Time

Narelle Gillies is a Lane Cove Mum who has had a child go through HSC. She is also a Psychotherapist/Counsellor who works with students on a daily basis.  She has some great tips on how to take the stress out of exam time.

Does your child worry excessively about exams? Do they experience panic or paralysis? If so, they are not alone!

According to a survey by mental health organisation ReachOut, 65.1% of Australian students aged 14-25 reported high levels of exam related stress in 2018, an increase from 51.2% in 2017.

Understanding and working with the body’s natural stress response is the key to helping students manage exam anxiety.

This exam related anxiety presents itself in many different ways including breathlessness, headaches, shaking, nausea and perhaps most concerning, the inability to think clearly or concentrate on the task at hand.

In response to these common stress reactions, many schools and universities offer students special provisions for sitting exams including private testing rooms and rest breaks. Whilst these are positive, short term solutions for students who find it difficult to cope with the traditional exam format, they are somewhat of a band-aid approach and don’t really help students learn long term strategies for dealing with performance anxiety.

Also, with an ever increasing number of students seeking special provisions on the basis of mental health, the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) continue to tighten the parameters for granting such provisions so there’s a risk that students who have been assisted at school for in-house exams may find their application rejected when it’s time to sit the HSC.

Understanding what causes exam anxiety can help young people manage their discomfort more effectively. American neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean developed a useful theory to explain how the brain responds to ‘threat’. His three tiered ‘Triune’ brain approach can help sufferers of anxiety and panic understand their responses more deeply, empowering them to manage their nerves.

His theory suggests there are three parts to the human brain:

  1. The Reptilian Brain – the most primitive part, wired for survival, also known as the brain stem;
  2. The Mammalian Brain – the slightly more developed part, also known as the limbic or emotional centre; and
  3. The Primate Brain – our highly developed neo-cortex, responsible for logic and higher order thinking.

When students feel under stress, regardless of the actual ‘threat’, their brain and body will react accordingly, usually thrusting them into the reptilian or primitive part of the brain resulting in a flight, fight or freeze response.

Neuro-scans have shown that when this happens, blood in the brain drains away from the logical part and moves towards the primitive and emotional parts, making it virtually impossible to think clearly and concentrate. In other words, students go into survival mode, whether it’s appropriate, convenient or not.

Understandably, normal feelings of mild to moderate anxiety can escalate to panic or paralysis when the stakes are high and exam pressure is at its worst. Young people who understand this natural process are better able to manage the inevitable feelings of nervousness around exam time.

Using simple behavioural strategies that target the nervous system, that is, the primitive part of the brain, students can learn to tolerate their discomfort, developing lifelong skills that will help them as they transition through school, higher education and beyond.

The following are some steps to take to manage stress:

  • Breathing exercises;
  • Distraction;
  • Drink  water to hydrate the brain;
  • Mindfulness; and
  • Specific gentle movements such as tapping.

Positive self-talk has also proven to be helpful for many students.

For example: ·

  • I’m okay, I’m safe, I will breathe deeply for a minute or two.
  • I’m just in my primitive brain at the moment but I’m doing really well.
  • My body is doing what it’s supposed to do, these feelings will pass.

Managing Stress Seminar

If you, or someone you know would like to learn more about Managing Stress, Narelle invites you to come along to a free information session on this topic. Understanding and Managing Exam Stress.

The session is for students, parents, teachers or anyone interested in finding out more. Register early! Places are limited.

When: Monday 26th August, 7pm – 8pm

Where: Awareness Institute: Level 1, 28 Chandos Street, St Leonards

Bookings: [email protected] or phone/text: 0431 594 141

Web: www.perspectivetherapies.com

Eat Well to Manage Stress

Body Fusion Lane Cove are our nutrition experts and they have four strategies for effective and enjoyable study (yes it’s possible!)

  • Exercise
  • Adequate sleep
  • Study breaks
  • Nutrition & Hydration

Read more here.

The Lane Cove Library will be holding special HSC activities in September.

About Narelle Gillies

Narelle is a Psychotherapist and Counsellor. Narelle is an experienced, fully qualified psychotherapist and counsellor who has worked with a diverse range of clients including teenagers, adults and the elderly from many different backgrounds. In addition to her work as a therapist and youth mentor, Narelle, her husband and two children were foster carers for 12 years, looking after young people from all walks of life. At Perspective Therapies, Narelle works collaboratively with her clients to explore their challenges and transitions using both intuition and insight whilst drawing on a range of therapeutic approaches depending on the needs of the individual. Her primary goal is to help others gain self awareness by exploring the areas of their life, both past and present, that may be interfering with their ability to function both happily and healthily. Specialising in the health and well being of adolescents and adults, Narelle is passionate about helping people improve their personal, social and academic/work experiences along with their interpersonal relationships and ability to cope with life’s challenges.

Masters in Counselling and Applied Psychotherapy

BEc Social Sciences (Hons)

Cert Holistic Counselling

Youth Mentor Program Counsellor

Member PACFA

Working with children / police checked

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