Exam stress for teenagers – and what to do about it!

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Exam season is upon us (how come its come round so soon I hear you mumble?) and with it comes a significant amount of stress! With looming deadlines, intense pressure, and the fear of failure, exams can be a source of considerable anxiety. not just for students – but also impacting the nervous system of parents, teachers, siblings and the home.

While exam stress affects the nervous system for all students, it can be especially challenging for those with ADHD to manage the stress of exams. Here, we’ll explore how exam stress impacts the nervous system for teens with ADHD and discuss strategies for helping them cope during this challenging time.

How Does Exam Stress Affect Teens With ADHD?

Exam season brings significant pressure and anxiety for all students. For those with ADHD, however, the unique difficulties associated with their condition can make it even more challenging to deal with exam stress. Common symptoms of ADHD such as inattention and impulsivity can make it difficult to focus on tasks or complete work accurately; while a tendency towards disorganization can lead to difficulty planning study effectively or completing assignments on time. As well as these practical issues, teens with ADHD may also struggle emotionally due to low self-esteem and feelings of failure related to their academic performance.

When these everyday difficulties are compounded by the intense pressure of exams, there is a significant risk that teens with ADHD could become overwhelmed by anxiety and panic attacks. This could lead to poor results in the exams themselves, thus creating a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety and shame around exams and assessments which could impact academic performance long-term.

Strategies for Managing Exam Stress in Teens With ADHD

It’s important to arm teens with strategies that help them cope effectively when taking exams:

  • Plan ahead: Building good organization habits in advance will help ensure that tasks are completed on time and adequate revision takes place before exams!

  • Make use of adaptive learning techniques: Techniques such as using color coding or singing key points while they revise will help teens stay focused when studying!

  • Take regular breaks: Breaks from studying allow teenagers’ minds to rest and relax – this is essential when dealing with exam stress!

  • Seek feedback from teachers: If a student feels like they need extra support or guidance when studying – reach out early to their teacher who will be able identify any weak points in knowledge and provide targeted assistance!

  • Set realistic expectations: Teens should try not to put too much pressure on themselves by setting unrealistic goals – instead focus on making small incremental improvements each day!

By following these strategies during exam season, teens with ADHD should find it easier to manage their stress levels and maximize their potential when taking exams. So let’s look a little deeper at some of these strategies. 

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning techniques are valuable tools that can help students stay focused, organised and motivated when studying. Here are some of the most useful adaptive learning techniques to help you prepare for exams:

  • Active recall: This technique involves engaging with the material by summarizing it, reformulating it in your own words and creating mind maps.

  • Spaced repetition: This has been shown to increase memorization and retention by having you review information at increasing intervals over time.

  • Mnemonic devices: These tools such as acronyms can be used to remember specific information more easily.

  • Flashcards: Using flashcards is an effective way to quickly learn facts or equations associated with a subject – they’re also easy to take with you wherever you go!

  • Color coding: This helps differentiate between topics or different aspects of a topic which makes the material easier to process.

  • Break study sessions into chunks: By breaking down large blocks of study into smaller chunks, it reduces cognitive overload which makes it easier to stay focused on tasks.

By using these adaptive learning techniques, teenagers should find it easier to focus on their studies and maximize their potential when taking exams!

Mind Mapping

  • Mind mapping is a powerful technique that helps you visualise your thoughts and communicate them to others. It is a type of diagram used to visually organize and present information, which can help organize ideas and concepts in order to better understand, remember, and generate new ideas.
  • Mind maps are typically created around a single concept or idea, with branches radiating out from the center representing related topics or subtopics. The branches can be further broken down into smaller branches with additional details, making it easier to understand complex topics.
  • Mind mapping is an effective way to brainstorm ideas, plan projects, map out information architecture, create org charts, develop sales strategies, and take notes. It can also be used for problem solving and decision making by helping identify potential solutions and their pros and cons.

There are many tools available for creating mind maps online such as 

Miro Mind Map Maker, MindMeister, MindMup, SimpleMind’s Mind Map Basics, Mural’s Mind Map Template, MindMapping.com’s How To Make A Mind Map guide, Canva’s Free Online Mind Maps tool, and Mind Tools’ Mind Maps® – A Powerful Approach to Note-Taking guide.

Here’s also a link for tips on creating a mind map. 

Take A Break

  • Taking regular breaks is an important part of any study session. Regular breaks allow you to stay focused and motivated, and can help improve your learning process. Additionally, taking regular breaks will help avoid fatigue or burnout, both of which can contribute to a decrease in productivity.
  • When studying or completing tasks that require focus, it is important to take short breaks every 30 minutes to an hour depending on how difficult the task is. During these breaks, it’s best to get up and move around, get some fresh air or stretch in order to recharge your body and mind. It may also be helpful to engage in calming activities such as meditation or doing some light reading during breaks.
  • Taking regular breaks can also provide an opportunity for reflection on the topic you’re studying – this can allow you to look back at what you’ve just covered and make connections between ideas before moving forward with new material. Reflection encourages deeper understanding of the subject matter and allows for improved retention of information.
  • There are also many resources on the benefits of taking regular breaks while studying.One resource is a blog post by Harvard Health Publishing titled, The Benefits and Science of Taking Regular Breaks. This article discusses the importance of regular breaks in order to prevent mental fatigue and optimize learning outcomes. It also provides tips on how to make the most of your study breaks such as getting up and moving around or engaging in calming activities such as reading or meditating.
  • Another useful resource is an infographic created by Oxford Learning titled, Why Take Study Breaks?. This infographic explains why it is important to take regular study breaks, featuring research that shows how regular breaks increase concentration, creativity and productivity levels.
  • Finally, The American Psychological Association provides a blog post about taking effective study breaks titled, Four Ways To Make A Break An Effective Study Tool. This article offers advice on how to make the most out of your study break such as setting a timer and focusing on self care during the break period.

Taking regular breaks during study sessions has many benefits – it helps improve focus, clarity of thought and productivity while providing time for reflection on the topic being studied. so the takeaway is – Studying longer does not always translates to doing better. 


Planning Ahead

Having a revision plan (boring I know) is key to staying on top of things. This plan should include setting aside specific times each week for studying, breaking down big tasks into smaller chunks, writing to-do lists and setting deadlines for yourself. Organisation tools such as calendars or planners can make tracking these tasks easier. Here are four easy steps to help you plan ahead: 

Step 1: Make a revision plan

  • Set aside specific times each week for studying
  • Break down big tasks into smaller chunks
  • Write out to-do lists and set deadlines for yourself
  • Use organization tools such as calendars or planners to track tasks

Step 2: Practice good time management

  • Prioritize tasks based on importance
  • Divide day into blocks of time dedicated to study
  • Take regular breaks during study sessions to maintain focus and motivation

Step 3: Show yourself some kindness

  • Get enough sleep and eat healthy meals throughout the revision period
  • Offer yourself incentives after completing certain goals in order to stay motivated – a trip to the cinema, ice cream , that new merch you have been wanting. Shocks very controlling and have you I don’t play games
  • Don’t forget to take some time off every day for relaxation or leisure activities!

Can Polyvagal Theory Help Teenagers With Exam Stress?

As our blog is called Polyvagal Teen® of course we are eager to share with you  that understanding polyvagal theory can help teenagers with exam stress by providing them with a way to better manage their emotions during difficult times.

By understanding how the nervous system works and learning to regulate their autonomic arousal, teens can learn techniques to calm themselves down in times of stress.

This can be done through practical techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation. These techniques allow teens to gain greater control over their response to stress, rather than feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Additionally, engaging in activities that foster connection with others such as talking to friends or family or engaging in physical activity can also help to reduce stress levels.

State Impacts Learning 

According to polyvagal theory, when we experience overwhelming stress, our body’s autonomic nervous system can be mobilised or immobilised. When in the mobillised state this response impairs our ability to learn because our body is focused on survival rather than learning new information.

If the stress becomes too overwhelming for us to handle, then our body can enter into an immobilised response where we become disconnected from ourselves and others around us. This disconnection further impairs our ability to learn as it makes it difficult for us to engage with new information or ideas.

However when we enter into a state of safe and social, we are able to focus on learning new information as our body is relaxed and not in a heightened state of alertness. This is the state we learn best in – whether young or old. 

To Conclude. 

Exam stress can be a difficult thing to manage, especially for teenagers with ADHD. It is important to remember that exams are not the only way to measure success. There are other options available such as apprenticeships and vocational courses, getting a job or even starting your own business. 

It is also important to take care of your mental health and take breaks when needed. With the right support system in place, teenagers with ADHD can still achieve their goals and have a successful future.

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About the author: Yasmin Shaheen-Zaffar

With a passion for improving the emotional wellbeing of young people, adults and parents, she is  the founder and creator of Polyvagal Teen®, she has developed an innovative approach to helping teens recognise and manage stress and anxiety through becoming “Polyvagal Aware”. In addition, Yasmin is also the founder of World Let’s Stop Shouting Day, which aims to promote peaceful communication and reduce conflict and aggression in our daily interactions. Neurosloth™ and The Hearts Whisper®

She also runs a small private practice providing counselling and neurofeedback  to young people and adults in North Yorkshire.

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