What have I done!?It’s finals week at the University of Washington, and I am walking around in a daze, spending all my free moments studying (note: it’s no longer finals week, but it was when I wrote this!) It brings back memories of all the exam stress in high school, and the days and nights I spent huddled over my textbooks, desperately trying to cram one more piece of information into my tired brain. I wanted to spend a little time discussing ways to help your teen deal with that stress while still studying effectively. (You may wish your teen was a little more stressed out about exams, in which case this will be less helpful.)

It’s still important to eat. Your teen needs to eat three meals a day, and two to three snacks, with lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and protein and everything that is good for the body. If food is good for the body, it’s usually good for the brain too! If your teen tends to get so involved in studying that they forget to eat, this can lead to low blood sugar and overall malaise, which impedes learning (and can make people irritable.)

It’s still important to sleep. We definitively cannot learn at top capacity without sleep. A good night’s sleep helps promote learning, memory, recall, cognitive capacity, and all those other wonderful processes that help us do well on tests. It’s better to sleep the night before a test than to study 8-9 hours with no sleep (experts agree on this, I’m not just making it up.) Some sleep is better than no sleep, but a full night’s sleep is the best option.

Take breaks. Everybody hits that point where their brain feels stuffed, but there’s still so much more to study! A 10-15 minute break, every 1-2 hours, really does help productivity. Studying a different subject is not a break. Your teen needs to read, watch TV, text, take a walk, draw a picture… whatever they find relaxing and distracting.

Hide the phone. And email. And Facebook. It is okay to go 1-2 hours without texting anyone or updating Facebook. Encourage your teen to leave their phone in another room, or that signal that they got a text message might be too tempting. Most teens use computers to study nowadays, but they should log out of email or Facebook and not log back in again until break time.

Exercise. Exercise helps relieve, stress, depression, anxiety, and many other feelings that impending exams can bring up. If your teen is feeling fed up, tell them to take a walk. If you have a dog, they’ll be thrilled to come along.  It will be nice to get outside and move a body that’s been sitting all day.

Speaking of dogs…. Pets are great stress-relievers. Petting a dog or cat (or bunny or ferret or what have you) has been shown to lower blood pressure and release “happy hormones” in our brain. If you have a family pet, encourage your teen to take some time out and give them some love. Your pet will be happy, your teen will be happy, and it’s a helpful study break.

Make sure anxiety isn’t going overboard. Some teens have test anxiety, and it’s extremely unpleasant, as well as something that can lower grades. This article talks a little bit about test anxiety, and ways to help it. You can also talk to a health care provider about asking for the school to make accommodations, such as extra time on tests or a certain testing environment.

Only one person should be stressing about exams. If your teen is obviously stressed and working hard to do well on their exams, they most likely don’t need a reminder that this test or these tests are important. You might remind them, though, that it’s just a test, if they don’t ace it the world will not end, and all they need to do is try their best.

If I could take my own advice, I’d be all set! I’m a little low on sleep, but I think my dogs will get a nice cuddle when I get home.

What other ideas do you have to help teens who are stressed about testing, or school in general?