Dealing with exam stress and anxiety

by | Aug 20, 2018 | Kid's Health topics

Dealing with exam stress and anxiety

by | Aug 20, 2018 | Kid's Health topics

Teenage Stress & those things called Assessments!

Dr. Jenni Silva, Clinical Psychologist

Hi again, it’s Dr. Jenni here again from Brilliant Minds Psychology to talk about teenage stress and those things called assessments!   Well… if you have ever sat for an exam or had to complete an assessment, it can be stressful! I don’t personally know anyone that loves  assessments…    If you a parent/carer with a teen I will talk more about how you can help support your teen with stress and anxiety in my third article called ‘Parents Supporting teens with anxiety/stress’  – so stay posted, this comes out in the next couple of days! 

In my clinical practice, I work a lot with teens and their parents, here are some common statements I hear in relation to assessments.

Common statements that I hear from teens are:

  • I have assignments due next week, and I have not started them”;
  • I  have an exam Monday!” 
  • My parents just dont get it, I have lots of work to do! II also have to work this weekend! Im never going to get all my assignments in on time, they dont even make sense”;
  • I just dont know what I am supposed to do and its due tomorrow!”
  • “Why bother!”

As a clinical psychologist working with mainly children, teens and young adults these statements are way too familiar  Ive seen my teens in their stressful brains and it can be a scary sight! Having two teens stressed at the same time in the same house, makes me want to run for cover!  

There is no sugar coating here; it’s a fact assessments and exams can be pretty chaotic & stressful! It is common for big emotions to turn up and to feel like you are drowning in a sea of emotions!   Feeling overwhelmed is a common feeling for many teens that have loads going on! On top of that parents often want you to do your chores and of course keep that messy room tidy!   You may also have part-time job commitments and co-curricular activities. WOW thats a lot for anyone let alone the developing teen brain!

Learning to cope with stress and anxiety is important! Remember that the key here is  ‘learning’,  it is not something that you learn overnight. Learning to prioritise, plan and get your assignments done on time is a skill within itself! To be honest, I don’t know too many teenagers with awesome organisation skills, and this is to be expected because that part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) is still under construction!  This is the good news,  that means you can learn this skill  & just like any new skill, this takes a little effort.

Well let’s get started by having a look at ‘Study Enemies’ (i.e., that is the things that get in the way of good study habits) followed by tips to help get you started in forming good strong healthy study habits.

1. Study Enemies – things that can get in the way of good study habits.

  • Study Enemy No. 1 – Your pretend friend ‘Hey, I’ll do it later” (i.e., ‘Procrastination!’).  When ‘procrastination’ turns up and says, “hey just watch Netflix for the weekend and get started Monday” “Or play Fortnite for a while and then study”.   Well you know.. this is probably where you are getting stuck.  This is Study Enemy Number ONE!!!! IT’S THE BIGGEST STUDY ENEMY!   Be on the lookout for your pretend friend ‘procrastination’ – it is simply not a good friend!  Ask yourself “does this work for me?” if not, why not try a different approach to studying and getting assessments done!
  • Study Enemy No.2  – Poor sleep (tip: leave your phone out of your room!) YOU NEED SLEEP!
  • Study Enemy No. 3. Social Media/XBox/Play Station.  Checking social media too often, Facebook, Instagram, snap chat etc. Small breaks are good, but social medial can get us caught up! The problem with procrastination is that in the short term it certainly reduces stress but once we realise that we still have not gotten started on our study then the stress wave hits us! arghhh!!!
  • Study Enemy No. 4 – Eating too much junk food and drinking too much caffeinated drinks. Well do I need to say more…. or have your parents already told you about this?
  • Study Enemy No. 5 – Poor planning and organisation – yes this is also a big enemy!
  • Study Enemy No. 6 – Lack of physical exercise
  • Study Enemy No. 7 – Avoidance! This is a little bit similar to procrastination!  In the short term some avoidance may lower stress, but if you never learn to get our assessments done on time due to avoidance of task than you will never learn that you can do it! Avoidance is never a good strategy!

It’s time to get onto the HELPFUL path….

2. Plan Plan Plan!! Thats the secret!  (See. Dr. Meg’s article on ‘How to do a Study Plan’ coming next week!)

  • Learn to organise and plan your study time.
  • Keep a schedule. There are many great calendars that you can stick on the wall to help keep you on track.
  • Start with writing down assignment due dates or exam dates.  Have daily and weekly targets, break it down into targets.

3. Sleep! Get that Brain Some Sleep & you’ll feel amazing for it!

  • Did you know that your brain needs sleep so it can process all the new knowledge and process this to your long-term memory?  This means if you are cheating yourself on sleep to study more – than it is counterproductive! That’s like pedalling backwards up a steep hill – it just doesn’t work! Teens need between 8 – 10 hours of sleep.  Phones and devices are sleep robbers – make the smart choice and leave out of the room at night. Check this out for more info

 4.Give your Mind a Hug and try some of the following:

  • Compassion: Be kind to your brain by giving it a break with some mindfulness! Try the following Apps: Smiling Mind or Breathe!. Practising mindfulness can help ground you especially when you are feeling stressed!
  • Relaxation Mind Tools: Mindfulness/Meditation! It is so important to know how to relax! Relaxation can help reduce stress, clear the mind and you will feel better for it! Sometimes we fall into the false belief of “I don’t have time for this”, however you will be surprised at how well you will do when you do take some time out to relax. Check this recording out ‘Watching your thoughts’
  • Thinking Tools with Kind Thoughts: Kind words – be kind to yourself! It is okay to have whatever feelings you have and remember “these feelings will pass” “these exams and assessments will pass” . 
  • Visualisation! Imagine yourself in a calm, beautiful, happy place. What do you see? The ocean, waterfall, a rainbow? What can you feel? (the grass, water, sand, the wind, the sun?). Use your senses to see and feel yourself in this happy calm place. Imagine yourself doing well and feeling calm. Imagine this calmness clearing your mind. As you start to feel a sense of relaxation, imagine your stress shrinking getting smaller and smaller. Visualise yourself studying, see yourself feeling confidence, staying calm and doing well on your exam and assessments. Check out this guided imagery for teens

Remember!. “This will pass” even if you are feeling stressed, gently remind yourself that this stress will pass! We know that if we have lots of unhelpful thoughts this increases our stress level!

5. Get Your Body into Gear with Physical Activity

  • Physical Tools: Remember to get some exercise! Keeping balance is essential! Check out Dr. Dan’s Mind Platter. We want to make sure that we have a balance! That means spend time with playing, connecting with others, sleeping, focus (that’s the study part). Plus exercise is a great way to reduce stress! Check out the link for more information on the Healthy Mind Platter.

6. Wake up your Senses with a Sensory Tool Kit

  • Sensory Tools: This is one of my favourite! Make a sensory tool kit. The purpose is to use the 5 senses – touch, smell, sight, hear and taste. Engage your senses to help calm you when you are feeling stressed, develop a sensory tool box (oils, fidget toys, strong lollies, music). Ideas for touch: different fabrics or those awesome sequence pillows that change direction (k-mart). Fidget toys such as slime, fidget cubes, elastic bands etc. Ideas for smells: your favourite essential oils. Taste:  Have some strong flavoured lollies – the fisherman lollies can be great as they are very powerful. The idea is to stimulate the senses. Hearing: Play your favourite music

7. Change your Posture for 2 minutes –  Power Posing

  • We do know that our body language also affects how we feel! Another way to help yourself feel better and more empowered is to practice Power Posing!  I love doing this in the clinic with the kids & teens, e.g.,put your hands on hips or hands in the air like you just won a race.  While we do this we practice our helpful thoughts “I can do this” “It’s okay if I don’t get it YET, I can ask for help” etc…  This works, it is amazing and helps build self confidence.  Check out Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk below – it’s AWESOME!


8. Feeling Super Stressed?

  • If you are feeling really stressed out, make sure you reach out! Talk to a friend, a family member or a teacher at school!  It is important to get help if you are feeling an extreme level of anxiety or stress.
  • We all have bad days, if you need extra support straight away call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or check out their website
  • See your local psychologist for some extra help and your GP


Remember there is no magic want when it comes to exam stress! The best methods are often the simplest – which comes down to study planning and reducing procrastination!


Well, bye for now  & I hope you find these strategies helpful!

Dr. Jenni

Clinical Psychologist

Brilliant Minds Psychology



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About Dr Megs

About Dr Megs

Megan is a Brisbane and Ipswich-based paediatrician in public and private practice, and mum to two small children. You can usually find her working hard in private practice at Paeds in a Pod North Lakes and Greenslopes, and in public practice at Ipswich Hospital.

PLEASE NOTE: This blog is written for the purpose of providing GENERAL advice about common children's health topics (and of course recipes). It is NOT a substitute for a proper medical assessment and examination by a qualified physician. If your child is unwell, seek medical and attention and advice in person.