We’re a week away from Year 6 SATs exams in the UK – a time which often provokes stress and anxiety in teachers, headteachers, parents and of course, the children themselves.
Now, without getting into a debate about the fact that many schools have been unwillingly forced into a culture of exam and data obsession which actually harms the mental health of the children that they care for (as well as the staff); let’s just acknowledge that it’s a rough time for all involved.
The following tips will help you, and your children, to relax and calm exam-related anxiety in different situations:
If negative thoughts come into your mind (e.g. ‘What if I fail?!’) in the days/weeks before the exam: try a Thoughts-Pop. Take your attention to a place – your hands, feet or breath perhaps – and strive to keep it in this one place. Whenever a thought interrupts your attention, notice it, squeeze your hand and return your attention to where it was. Think of your thoughts like clouds in the sky. No matter how stormy or grey or thunderous they might be, all clouds will pass eventually, revealing a sky underneath just as brilliant, blue and calm as it ever was.
If you’re really struggling with negative thoughts, you might find it helpful to write down the thoughts that you’re having and decide whether they belong in the Save, Shelve or Bin bucket. Where there are lots of unhelpful thoughts – you might even like to write them down, before screwing them up and actually binning them.
If you keep picturing yourself in the exam, panicking and messing up, and feeling terrible as you do so… change the movie into a comedy. Throw in a banana peel, a dancing penguin and a clown suit – make it ridiculously silly and take the negative emotion out of the scenario. Even better, follow this up by watching a movie where you feel calm and confident on the day and everything runs pretty smoothly before, during and after the test.
If you’re struggling to sleep the night before the exam: firstly, remember that this is completely normal – most people struggle to sleep the night before a new challenge. Secondly, try a Body Scan Meditation. Simply bring attention up, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, spending a little time in each place noticing any sensations and feelings that are present. You might find it helpful to tense/scrunch up muscles and then release, or to imagine that you are comfortably sinking into your bed. Still awake? Try the Thoughts-Pop again, staying with your breath until you fall asleep.
Click here for more specifically on getting to sleep.
If you’re panicking during the exam: again, remember this is natural. Your brain senses a threat and in order to protect you, it’s triggering the ‘FFF Alarm’ (Fight, Flight, Freeze.) Speak to that anxious part of you, as if it’s a worried friend, and tell them it’s okay in your most encouraging tone of voice. “We’re just going to work through this test and do our best. That’s all we need to do.”
And breathe! In through your nose and out through your mouth, sensing where you feel that breath in your nostrils, throat, chest and stomach; following the rise and fall of your belly as the out-breaths follow the in-breaths. Calm down that inner-worrier with the power of the breath and the stillness of the present moment.