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Children and Teens With Stress and Anxiety

EXAM stress REVISION stress. STRESSED about starting a new school, applying for secondary school - or something else such as bullying. It doesn't just affect the individual suffering from it, it affects the whole family, the worry, self doubt, inability to move forward and frustration. Often the situation is not only stressful for everyone involved with the student, but creates yet more stress because nobody quite knows what to do to resolve the situation. Some stress is good for you - that is why you, do a good job, perform well in exams get out of bed in the morning. Our bodies reaction to stress. is an automatic process, that had served us well for many thousands of years called fight or flight or the stress response. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This response is the bodies way of protecting you, and getting your body ready to perform at its best it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life, giving you extra strength to defend yourself, or others. For example where mothers have lifted incredibly heavy objects off of their children for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident. The same response helps us to perform at our best if we need to run away from a threat – historically tigers or lions. Historically as cave men this stress response has served us well. Out hunting for food with our tribe – ready to fight and bring home the food for the day – a feast with our people. The danger would then be over for the day, feeling safe at the end of the day, a full stomach, getting a good nights sleep the fire at the mouth of the cave. The body replenished itself, ready for the next day and the next situation where stress response may be required to assist with fighting or fleeing. Some of the specific physiological changes and their functions include:-

  • Increased blood flow to the muscles activated by diverting blood flow from other parts of the body.

  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, and fats in order to supply the body with extra energy.

  • The blood clotting function of the body speeds up in order to prevent excessive blood loss in the event of an injury sustained during the response.

  • Increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength.

As already described these are natural responses to danger BUT if we live in a constant state of stress the stress becomes too much then it starts to affect your life, feeling overwhelmed, frozen unable to move forward or do the things that need to be done.

If we are laying awake at night stressed by events of the day or worrying about what tomorrow may bring, then we are not shutting off and recovering from the fight or flight. The nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. So if a student has been studying a course for a number of years maybe did not do well in term work or mocks, may also be stressed over an argument with a friend, a parent or sibling or all three, a work deadline, or a mountain of other work, the body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation.

The more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off. If someone is stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. This constant stress can lead to serious health problems. Being in a constant state of stress will eventually lead to the adreanals being depleated and will start to affect all the other systems in your body. Chronic stress not only disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, leading to more frequent illness, another stressor on the run up to examinations and disruption to revision. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Pain of any kind

  • Sleep issues

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Digestive problems

  • Skin conditions, such as eczema

  • Heart disease

  • Weight problems

  • Reproductive issues

  • Thinking and memory problems

When we feel stressed and anxious we are unable to focus retain facts and often cannot think, this is then reinforced by our self talk because we are anxious we give ourselves negative messages such as ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m useless’ and ‘I’m going to fail’. It is to be expected that students will be come become nervous, worried and concerned about their revision and exams. The results are important to them and for them, worry that they will not get the grades for courses or job they want, a feeling that they are letting down their family or school. As already discussed some stress is useful, helping us to focus and move forward with the things that we need to do. Understanding the stress response, how the student is reacting, looking for the signs and symptoms that help may be required to ensure the best outcome for everyone is very important. Exam stress can start when students feel that they can't cope with revision, or feel pressure from, school or family, this may not be actual pressure – it is about how the individual feels. Other factors are that students will worry that they are going to fail or won't get the grades that are required for the course, school university or job that they want, so they put themselves under pressure. The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it is affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. It is important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload. Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Memory problems.

  • Inability to concentrate.

  • Poor judgment

  • Seeing only the negative

  • Anxious or racing thoughts

  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness

  • Anxiety and agitation

  • Moodiness

  • Irritability, or anger

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Loneliness and isolation

  • Other mental or emotional health

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Nausea,

  • Dizziness

  • Chest pain

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Eating more or less

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Withdrawing from others

  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

Why do people react differently to the same situations? Everyone reacts differently to different sitiuations and what may stress one person out does not stress another. This is because our bodies react to what we believe is a danger to us so we would all experience different levels of stress to the same situation. This is because we all have different beliefs about ourselves and the world, these beliefs are made often when we are very young before the age of 7. CASE STUDY I worked with a young lady a couple of years ago – she had left every mock examination she had sat without completeing them, her flight and flight mechanisium had overwhelmed her so much during the examinations that she had to leave (flee) from the “danger” that her mind perceived. It looked like she would not be able to get any of her GCSEs as she not only felt unable to stay in the exam room, let alone answer any questions on the paper, infact she even exhibited physical symptoms of a swollen stomach. I worked with her for a number of sessions, provided her with some tools that enabled her to cope, helped her to grow her confidence and the outcome was that she was able to sit all of her GCSE examinations, without having to leave the room and passed all 8 of them. So contact me for a chat about how I can help, however stress is affecting your child, teen older student, with starting a new school with Revision for SATs Entrance exams, 11 plus from mild to servere symptoms, I can help by giving them the tools, the self belief and confidence to do their best!

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