File picture: Swartzberg also recommends that you be patient with your child, and be careful about the amount of pressure you put on them, as that could exacerbate their stress. Picture: ANA

Durban - With matric preliminary exams around the corner, teenagers’ stress and anxiety levels are probably higher than usual, making their lives, and the lives of those around them, a lot more difficult.

Add to this the other major stressors faced by teens, and it could be a recipe for disaster if it isn’t managed properly and pro-actively.

Exams aside, the teenage years can be rough. Sleep deprivation, hormones and the dilemma of standing out while trying to fit in, are real issues which could have serious implications for those who care for kids.

“With all these forces at work in a teen’s head and heart, it’s not surprising that, especially before exam time, they are vulnerable to feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and are sensitive to the pressure of not only learning, but doing well too.

“While it’s also not good to be too ‘soft’ on teens, it’s wise to not dismiss the unique challenges they face,” says Claudia Swartzberg, chief executive of Top Dog Education.

Swartzberg says stress responses might differ among teens, but general symptoms of pre-exam stress include worrying a lot, feeling tense, getting irritable, getting stomach pains or headaches, eating more or not eating, feeling hopeless about the future, feeling negative, difficulty in falling asleep and getting up in the mornings, and not enjoying activities like before.

“Whether your child shows signs of stress or not, there are ways to support them as they face some of the most important exams of their school career,” says Swartzberg.

Nicola Morgan, a UK-based and international speaker and award-winning author for and about teenagers, and an expert on stress and how to manage it, has these tips for managing a teen’s pre-exam stress:

Ensure they get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep can be tricky around exam time. The main trick is to use the hour before bed to wind down and to have no screen time and no work or arguments that might raise the heart rate or stress.

Ensure they eat well

Brains need food, so make sure they’re eating regularly, even when they might not be hungry. Sugary foods cause a dip in energy and affects concentration, so choose snacks such as fruit, nuts, biltong or peanut butter sandwiches or rice cakes. Encourage them to eat meals with a combination of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables.

Check phones and internet for a while every day

Social media can be great for feeling part of a group, but being connected all the time stops your child from relaxing. Switching off lets one unwind, and simply “be”.

Encourage them to read for pleasure

People who read books for pleasure report that it relaxes them and allows them to switch off their worries, and wind down before sleep.

Encourage them to take or keep up a hobby

Even if you think your child is too busy for a hobby, it’s worth making time for one. Hobbies take your mind off worries, and having a break from work will allow stress chemicals to reduce. Hobbies also enable one to socialise, build self-esteem, and have lots of fun - all great stress relievers.

Remind them to laugh

Laughter makes the brain produce feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Buy your child a joke book, find funny YouTube videos, or encourage laughter just by being silly at home.

Ensure they’re getting the help they need

Keep communicating with your child and regularly assess their levels of stress and see if they need anything from either you or a professional. A teen might not be able or willing to communicate how they are feeling, so watch them for signs of stress, and help them.

Swartzberg also recommends that you be patient with your child, and be careful about the amount of pressure you put on them, as that could exacerbate their stress.

“Don’t forget to reward them for their study efforts and even plan something relaxing or fun to do with them after exam time so that they have something to look forward to,” Swartzberg said.

The Mercury