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Stress – What is it and How to Beat it

Posted 12th November 2020

Do you feel irritable? Find it hard to sleep? Lost interest in food? Get headaches and stomach pains? Have negative thoughts or just feel down?

It could be stress.

It would be strange if you weren’t experiencing some form of stress around things like new experiences, pressure of work and exams, let alone the whole uncertainty around Covid 19 and a world pandemic.  Stress and anxiety are appropriate and normal reactions at any age to challenges we all face.  There is no avoiding it.  We all have to manage the feelings to deal with new and uncomfortable situations on a daily basis. 

Here is some information that might help. 

For months many teenagers have been learning at home, staying indoors.  That has suited some, less social pressures and anxiety.  But now, back at school, with new experiences to face, tests and exams looming, or not knowing if and when exams will take place, pressure has returned and many feel less confident, more stressed.

Stress on the brain!

Stress isn’t always a bad thing; it can be handy for providing a burst of extra energy and focus, it can help you work, think faster and more effectively, and improve your performance.  But too much stress can be overwhelming, make daily tasks seem daunting.

What are you thinking?

When we feel stressed, we often give ourselves negative messages like: ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m useless’ and ‘I’m going to fail’. It can be difficult but try to replace these with positive thoughts such as: ‘take a breath, concentrate – it’s going to be okay’.  Picturing how you’d like things to go can help you feel more positive. Try to imagine yourself turning up to school feeling confident and relaxed, and chatting to some of your friends. You get to your class, answer a question correctly or hand in your homework on time. All is well.

Mindfulness, paying attention, on purpose, to what’s happening in the present moment can stop that negative thinking, give your brain a break, there a lots of mindfulness exercises that you can find online.  Try them out.

What do they expect?

Internal and external pressure from friends, teachers and family can cause high expectations which can increase stress.  When it comes to exams, it can sometimes feel like your whole future depends on what marks you get.  Predicted grades or being in a particular set, and that feeling that if you don’t get the result everyone expects you’ll let your teachers or parents down, is common.

Why revise?

The better you are prepared, whether for an exam or an interview, the less stress you will feel.  Getting organised, having a revision schedule and a private, comfortable place to study is a great help.  Each person is different and will find their own way of working.  One of the key reasons people feel exam stress is because they are comparing themselves to others. You can only do your best. So take some control over how much you do and don’t leave it all to the last minute.  Being able to remind yourself of what you do know and the time you have put into study can help you feel confident.  The more confident you are, the less stressed you will feel.


No-one can work all day every day. You will work more effectively if you take regular breaks.  Perhaps try some relaxation techniques.  Stay flexible and continue to do some of the things that matter to you.  You will not be able to socialise as much or spend as much time on social media, but stay in touch with friends when you can and negotiate with your parents/carers to allow some down time, the occasional treat and time off.

Eat well!

Raw foods, such as salads and fruit, are good as they are thought to give you a lot of energy and help cleanse the body.  Try more wholegrains (like brown rice), beans (like kidney beans), pulses (like lentils) and other foods that are high in fibre (like brown bread and cereals).  Drink lots of water.  Hydration helps to boost your mood.  Too many high-fat, high-sugar and high-caffeine foods and drinks (such as cola, sweets, chocolate, burgers and chips) can make you hyperactive, irritable and moody.  Try to have your evening meal at least 3 hours before bedtime, to allow you to digest your food. 

Sleep well!

Many people find it hard to sleep, but great sleep helps combat anxiety and stress, so how do you do it?

The NHS says that 15-16 year olds need a minimum of 9 hours sleep per night in order to develop normally and have alert brains.  Getting enough sleep has proven advantages in memory and performance.  So if you have to be up at 7.00am, that means lights, phones, computers, iPads etc. off by 10pm! Or even earlier, research shows that it takes time to mentally switch off from technology, so perhaps listening to some relaxing music or reading a book might be a better thing to do before trying to sleep. Think about how you wind down.

Other things that can help you sleep are not going to bed on a full or empty stomach, taking regular exercise, cutting out caffeine in the evening (present in colas, tea and coffee), perhaps try a milk based drink or herbal tea instead.  Try getting into a good bedtime routine such as taking a warm bath, writing a list of things to do the next day so that you can switch off, going to bed at the same time.  See how relaxing your bedroom is for you – a tidy room, warm and cosy, that’s dark at night with a comfortable bed will help lull you to sleep.


This not only improves sleep, it can help boost energy levels, clear the mind and relieve stress.  Getting outside for a walk can clear your head, the fresh air can perk you up if you’re feeling sleepy, and you could even use the rhythm of walking to help to go over things you have learnt.  Generally, exercise can help circulation and get rid of excess fluid in your body.  It can also release endorphins ‘happy hormones’ that produce a sense of well-being and calm.  Any form of exercise can help, but don’t overdo it. An hour a day is enough.  Remember, if you are also noticing how the different parts of your body feel and how you are breathing whilst you are exercising, your brain cannot be worrying at the same time – again, try a bit of mindfulness.

In a panic?

Fast, shallow breathing can sometimes bring on a panic attack in someone who is feeling anxious. If you feel panicky try to take slow breaths, notice how many breaths you are taking and tell yourself you are ok.  Remember, mindfulness techniques will also help.  Focus on what is around you, concentrate on the table, or chair, notice your feet on the floor and how they feel.  Sometimes it helps to carry a charm, shell, stone or other small object to touch if you are getting panicky, to bring you calm. Panic attacks can happen to anyone, but they happen less if the above stress relief tips are followed. Meditation, relaxation music, yoga and mindfulness exercises can all help.

Talk about it!

Share your worries.  You are not alone – there will be others who feel the same as you.  Try to ignore negative thoughts such as being a burden or upsetting other people.  Instead think about who you feel easy or comfortable with and how they can help you through this.

Lastly, trust your own thinking

Listen to what your body and emotions are saying to you.  For example, if you are feeling tired, try going to bed or to rest.  Trust that you have the inner strength to overcome whatever feelings or difficulties you’re experiencing.

And remember – This too shall pass