The exam season is a highly pressured time for students, whether they are taking their A-Levels, IGCSEs, or internal school exams. As part of the The Whole Me Forward programme, Mr Lynch, Head of Mental Health & Wellbeing, and Mrs Rowe, Wellbeing Officer, put together a guide for maintaining wellbeing during exams.
In dedicated sessions, our Senior School students have been focusing on some simple but effective strategies for supporting their mental and physical health during a time of potentially heightened anxiety and stress. The students were introduced to a basic daily ‘check-in’ technique to help them identify and notice how they were feeling within their bodies. It was explained that whilst we can’t necessarily change our feelings, we can learn to recognise them, acknowledge them, and change how we relate to our feelings. The students found that taking a few minutes to sit quietly, closing their eyes, and letting their thoughts focus on their inner feelings, made them feel calmer and less anxious. This is a very short practice anyone can do at anytime, so it is an excellent tool to use before starting a revision session or taking an exam.
The students also learnt about how to choose healthy brain-boosting revision snacks. Whilst students often reach for fizzy drinks, crisps, and sweet treats to increase energy, this was a great opportunity to highlight the variety of more effective alternatives that can be readily available in their cupboards. We encouraged the students to incorporate some of the following into their daily snacks.
These foods all offer slow-release energy and are packed with important nutrients to help support the growing teenage brain. And good news for chocoholics – dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa) contains zinc, which is a highly important nutrient for brain function, so (in moderation) this is also a brain-boosting snack! Choosing the right snacks is really important for the demands of exam season.
Sleep is also critical to a healthy functioning body, especially during revision and exams. We would like to encourage parents to help our students access the highest quality sleep they can. This can be done by reminding them not to have any caffeinated drinks (including fizzy drinks) after 3pm and switching off devices and mobile phones at least an hour before bedtime, since the blue light they emit prohibits the body’s natural ability to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin. Maintaining a daily exercise routine will also aid sleep.
The students also learnt about the longer term benefits of investing in revision strategies, as revision planning develops skills that can be taken forward into the workplace. Ensuring a good balance between work and home life is something employers will look for; being a workaholic is not a positive thing and leads to burnout. Our students have been encouraged to build in sensible time slots for revising, eating, exercising and relaxing. This demonstrates discipline, time management skills, and the ability to prioritise and reflect/review. These essential soft skills are as important in the workplace as the ability to retain and use information.
Breathing & Focus
Mr Lynch and Mrs Rowe shared some helpful resources to assist the students to reflect on their progress in each subject area in order to plan what they will prioritise when revising. This helps to provide a focus, which will in turn help to manage stress and anxiety. The students were taught a square breathing technique, where they practised breathing in for a count of four, holding their breath for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, and holding their breath for a count of four, visualising drawing the sides of a square at each step of the technique. This simple breathing technique signals the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down and can be very useful when students feel highly anxious.