Having to take an exam in school can play a significant role on a teen’s mental health. He or she may not be diagnosed with a teen anxiety disorder, which could be debilitating in many ways. But stress and anxiety may rise to high levels right before taking a test.
Fear of failure, lack of preparation, and having a poor test history can contribute to this type of anxiety. It’s common for teens to associate their self-worth with their successes at school. If this is the case, a teen might feel a high pressure to perform. Although this might prompt a teen to study well, it might also turn into an anxiety that gets in the way succeeding during the exam. On the other hand, some teens may not take the time to study and wait until the last minute to begin preparing for an upcoming test. This can also create high levels of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm. Lastly, if a teen has a history of bad experiences with test taking, the association created between tests and bad experiences might create a level of anxiety prior to each exam.
When a teen is experiencing this sort of intense stress, he or she might have physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. For instance, a teen might experience headaches, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, or even light-headedness. There may be feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment. The stress of an upcoming test might prevent an adolescent from being able to concentrate, which is frequently necessary while studying. And the inability to focus while studying might only create more anxiety. This can in turn create negative thoughts and risky behavior, such as drinking, taking amphetamines to stay awake, or driving to school the next morning with little sleep.
Test anxiety may not warrant professional mental health therapy. However, there is no emotional or psychological issue that is too small for psychotherapy. But if therapy is not necessary, your teen might find help with learning some relaxation techniques. For example, yoga, meditation, and breathing consciously and slowly can be tools to use on a regular basis. Yoga is a practice, a form of exercise, which invites an integrated experience of body and mind. Its effects can be experienced immediately as well as over time. Meditation is also a very calming practice that can also produce healing experiences. Although meditation might be difficult at first, the challenge at the beginning is worth the rewards. Finally, deep breathing can be an essential tool, particularly right in those intense moments that might otherwise lead feeling high levels of stress. Helping your child develop the habit of breathing deeply right before a test can be the practice that eliminates teen test anxiety altogether.
Other more obvious tactics for teens is to:
Be prepared. For those adolescents who tend to put studying off to the last minute, perhaps developing better studying habits can be helpful. For example, a teen might begin studying for an exam one or two weeks prior, even if that is just 15 minutes per day. Another tip is to have your child simulate the experience of taking the exam by working with a practice exam or testing him or her in advance.
Develop good test taking skills. Parents can support their teens by teaching them exam skills. These include reading through test directions, answer the questions you know first, create an outline for essay questions before writing, and concentrate on the exam and not other students in the room.
Stay healthy. Parents can encourage their teens to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and talk about test anxiety openly and honestly. One way for teens to stay emotionally healthy is to ensure they feel supported. Parents can provide emotional support while adolescents might also find assistance (emotional and educational) at a school-counseling center.
Whether you’re a teen or not, tests can be anxiety provoking. However, it doesn’t always have to be. The above tips might support parents and teens in working that anxiety for successful test taking in the future.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Test Anxiety. Retrieved on July 8, 2014 from: http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/test-anxiety
By Robert Hunt
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