Help Your Teens Beat Testing Anxiety With Our Top 3 Stress Relief Strategies
It’s testing season in schools across America, which means just as students are counting down the days until the freedom of summer vacation, many are also feeling the stress and intensity ratchet up as final exams and AP tests loom near. Managing stress is a key life skill, particularly given the negative health effects of stress, and testing season is as good a time as ever to help your teen learn healthy stress management skills.
Help your teen overcome testing anxiety with these stress relief tips that your teen can then apply to any stressful or anxiety-provoking situation.
Stress Busting Tip #1: Understand Anxiety as a Human Survival Mechanism
When you experience stress and feel anxiety, you are actually feeling the side effects of your body’s survival response to potential danger. Understanding how stress works can help your teen avoid feeling overwhelmed by stress. After all, as unpleasant as testing anxiety may be, it’s actually a survival mechanism the body evolved to keep you alive—so in a sense, it’s a strength.
When your body senses danger, it goes into survival mode and triggers a series of physiological changes to optimize your response to imminent threats. Your heart beats faster and your breathing becomes shallow to get more oxygen to your muscles, your pupils dilate, your muscles become tense in preparation to react, your body sweats to cool itself, and non-essential functions are deprioritized. It’s an amazing transformation when you think about it, which is why we might forgive our bodies for sometimes overreacting and launching this process when we are not, in fact, in danger—like when we’re stressed.
Since your body interprets stress as a sign of danger, stress triggers the process that amps up your defenses and prepares you to react. If you’re not in danger, these changes can get uncomfortable, and instead of being optimized for survival you feel the side effects as symptoms of anxiety, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, blurred vision, sore muscles, sweating, and dry mouth.
Worse for tense teens during testing season, the stress response also de-prioritizes the kind of calm, rational thinking that in life-or-death situations may take too much time, but that would really be helpful when sitting for final exams. The good news: once your teen understands how stress creates feelings of anxiety, you can help them gain control over their stress by teaching them stress relief techniques to use in the moment to reduce the symptoms.
Stress Busting Tip #2: Structure Studying Time Around Specific Goals to Set Your Teen Up for Small Victories
The enormity of the task of studying for high-stakes tests can be overwhelming for teens, particularly those who have not yet fully developed their time management skills. The trouble is that “studying for finals” is a vague task without clear metrics of progress. As a result, teens may procrastinate on preparing for tests and miss the relief that comes from meeting smaller goals.
Help your teen beat testing anxiety and any other form of stress by teaching them to break up large, vague tasks like “studying” into more specific smaller tasks. For example, instead of “studying for the history final,” encourage your teen to specify topics to study combined with an action or output. “Listing the effects of the First World War” or “making flashcards to practice world history vocabulary” give students a clearer idea of what they should be doing to study, along with a way to measure their progress when studying. This sets your teen up to feel more prepared for their tests, while also giving you a visible output that you can use to measure and praise your teen’s progress towards smaller achievable goals.
Tips to help your teen create a plan to prepare for each exam and conquer testing anxiety:
- Teach your teen to put their phones all the way away when studying, since research suggests that just having a phone in the vicinity can damage their ability to focus.
- Put study goals on a calendar, scheduling times for studying and for breaks.
- Pair each study session with a concrete task like making flashcards to practice vocabulary or completing a number of problem sets for math.
- Reach out to your child’s teachers for suggestions on how your student should spend their studying time.
Stress Busting Tip #3: Trick Your Body Into Calming Down With Deep Breathing
Just as stress cues your body to react to danger, you can send your body signals that all is well and it can relax. One of the easiest ways to tell your body to chill out is focused, deep breathing. Unlike the shallow, fast breathing that comes with your body’s fight-or-flight response, taking long, deep breaths increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and signals your nervous system to activate its rest-and-relax response.
There are many deep breathing exercises to counter anxiety, but one of the easiest is called box breathing, or if it’s easier for teens to remember, the 4X4:
The box breathing technique:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds through your nose.
- Hold for 4 seconds.
- Breathe out for 4 seconds through your mouth.
- Repeat four times.
For more topics related to parenting the modern teen, follow along with our Hospitality Health ER blog! We’ve recently covered other topics on parenting teens in “Signs Your Kid May Be Experiencing Anxiety and What You Can Do To Help” and “Is My Child Starting Puberty?” And make sure to check out Hospitality Health ER’s series on Raising a Well-Rounded Teenager: Parts I, II, III, and IV. For giveaways, updates, and COVID-19 tips, like us on Facebook and Instagram.