The exam season can be a particularly challenging time for students, so having the skills to deal easily with the related stress is important. Mindfulness techniques, if practiced by students, can be easily called upon if they feel overwhelmed.
Last year saw the biggest rise in the number of teenagers, aged 12 – 15, receiving counselling from Childline for exam stress – up by 21 per cent from the previous year. We believe schools have a responsibility to promote pupils’ well-being as well as enhancing their resilience in practical, accessible ways.
What is mindfulness?
Achieved through breathing and meditation practices, mindfulness involves learning how to remain focused on the present situation, acknowledging what you’re feeling and experiencing, and managing thoughts in a rational way.
Instead of being overwhelmed by thoughts, you are able to manage them better and accept them without judgement.
The wide-ranging benefits of mindfulness training
There is mounting evidence that mindfulness has measureable effects on many aspects of health. According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, school based interventions have impactful positive outcomes on wellbeing: reducing anxiety and stress as well as improving behaviour.
Neuroscientists have found that long-term mindfulness practice alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. Mindfulness can help young people to develop a more considered thought process, rather than just ‘reacting’ to situations. Mindfulness helps to achieve the goal of quietening the mind and heightening awareness.
During a recent ACS Hillingdon Wellness Week, we spent ten minutes every day practicing guided meditations with our students in class. At the end of the week, teachers cited calmer classes with most students also saying they felt re-focused and much less stressed.
This mirrors the results of a Mindful Schools study in which 83 per cent of teachers saw improved focus amongst students who had undertaken mindfulness training. Additionally, 89 per cent also claimed their students were regulating their emotions more effectively, while three quarters claimed that their students were behaving with greater compassion. A large proportion, 79 per cent, of teachers also cited increased engagement in the classroom.
7 mindfulness tips to help relieve students' exam worry
To help our students, we have a number of tips that we share with them to help combat exam panic and stress:
Guide students through a meditation. Meditation inspires students to concentrate on their senses and breathing, clearing headspace to think and regulate their emotions. We’ve compiled a playlist of five popular YouTube guided meditations which can help students deal with stress. Students may find meditations challenging to begin with, but with practice, they will find it becomes much easier.
2. The Five Senses Drill
Similar to the guided meditations, a three-minute breathing exercise can help students to re-focus their attention and restore focus and calm. The ‘Five Senses Drill’ is a simple breathing exercise; after two deep breaths, meditators silently note three things they see, hear, feel and note what they smell and taste, before finishing the exercise with two more deep breaths.
3. Use specialist relaxation apps
A specialist app, ‘Stop, Breathe & Think’, generates individual meditations. Students feeling anxious can add in their mental, physical and emotional states into the app which will curate personalised meditations based on their results. The ‘Headspace app’ is another popular app which offers guided meditations, as well as animations, articles and videos.
4. Switch off your tech
Taking a step back from technology will also benefit them in the long run, so encourage young people to avoid sleeping with their phones beside their beds, and advise them to cut down mobile phone usage particularly in the evenings and at night.
5. Stick to a sleep routine
Encouraging students to get up at the same time each morning, eating healthily, and engaging in regular physical activity, will also help to aid sleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the most powerful ways we can protect ourselves from stress and anxiety.
6. Get creative
Engaging in a relaxing and creative activity can be very beneficial for students, especially during a stressful period, such as during the exam season. This could include colouring intricate patterns, sculpting, or simply sketching.
7. Build up your self-belief
Self-talk’ techniques remind students what they have done well that day or what they have achieved, and build self-belief. Help students to adopt a go-to, personalised, positive phrase or mantra, such as ‘I am, I can, I will’ or ‘I believe I can do my best’. Repeating this phrase over a series of days, weeks and months, will help drown out any negative thoughts and will foster a positive attitude.
Teaching mindfulness gives students the crucial tools to deal with the pressures of life. It’s an approach that has a tangible effect on young people’s behaviour and wellbeing. The ability to be able to step back, reflect thoughtfully and truly focus is a skill that can help students deal with stress and pressure, both in and out of the classroom.
Long term, practising mindfulness cultivates a greater sense of perspective, within the school gates and beyond. It helps young people to develop a more considered thought process, rather than just ‘reacting’ to situations. We believe it makes complete sense to incorporate it into school life, and beyond, so students can draw upon it whenever they wish to.
About the author: Jean Glover is the Lower and Middle School Assistant Principal at ACS Hillingdon. She began her career in New York and has been living and working overseas for over 20 years.
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