With exams now upon us, it is something both students, and their parents need to be aware of - how to spot it, and how to cope with it and manage it.
Stress carefully managed is hugely positive, spurs us on and gives us energy. Poorly managed, it can overwhelm and incapacitate. Teenagers, for all their bluster, are not fully grown, developed or matured in any sense - no matter how much they claim differently.
Teenage bodies, brains, views, voices, social skills, emotions and coping mechanisms are still malleable, under constant change, waiting to take their final forms. What we need to look out for are the signs of stress.
In an adult these are easy to see. But what exactly is normal behaviour for teens? Teenage moods seem to change daily, leaving young adults themselves often surprised. How exactly is one supposed to recognise any signs in this chaos of emotions and behaviours? To make this task even more challenging, stress can manifest itself in a myriad ways. These include:
With so many contrasting symptoms, there is no real way to be sure here. As parents all we can do is keep channels of communication open. Try to engage in conversation, as often and as naturally as you possibly can with a grumpy teenager.
If you start becoming concerned, watch carefully, keep up a steady stream of food and go with your instinct. The worst that could happen is that you get laughed at, or the door slams on you; both are worth risking in a good cause. (Teenagers - try to remember your parents are only trying to help!).
Some stress, of course, is unavoidable in life, for example when travelling or having tests or performances. At what point levels of stress swing into unacceptable is highly individual, dependent on a person’s genetic make-up as well as on their general outlook in life.
Hopw personality/attitude helps:
Being forewarned about a potentially stressful interlude – job interviews, exams, visits to the police, doctors, a difficult operation, therapy or a summons to the headmaster’s office – helps. Knowing what to expect, helps with coping. In the midst of exams, a timetable, and revision plan is essential...
Knowing strategies to calm ourselves down helps, such as listening to or playing music, talking to a friend, doing exercise, breathing through deeply help, as does going for a walk.
There are many undesirable ways of coping with stress which are easy to do and even meet with social acceptance. Taking pills, drinking too much coffee or even alcohol, smoking, over-eating or just slouching to “recover” from that test, interview, or stressful day, are not ideal coping strategies.
Learning ways of dealing with our stress is rapidly becoming a vital life skill. It is very difficult to control the stress children are put under. They can, however, control their reactions to it. They, or anyone else suffering from stress, need to be shown how to do this.
Because stress mounts up gradually, by the time the individual realises that they are completely stressed, their responses are full-blown and their thoughts are out of control. This is where parents, or if need be, therapists or the school psychologist, need to step in.
Reminding young adults of the day the exam, the meeting, the interviews, the competition is over, and how their current all engulfing problems will soon be a memory, helps enormously. We cannot take away stress altogether. We can only help, keep our wits about us, be vigilant and notice if the situation develops into one where expert advice becomes necessary.
Agnes Holly has worked for more than 25 years in education ranging from university to nursery, and everything in-between. She is a qualified SEN teacher and has worked extensively with children who have dyslexia and ADHD. She has additional practical experience in the form of five of her own children aged between 6 and 23.