Helping Students To SEAL Away Stress

As we enter exam results season, it’s common for many of us to think back on how it felt to get our own exam results. Scared? Anxious? Excited? The system has changed over the years; O-Levels, AS Levels, Coursework, A2 Levels; these are all terms that some of us are familiar with and others not so familiar. Today (17th August) is A-Level results day and social media is already awash with good luck posts and reminders that it’s not the end of the world if your results weren’t what you hoped they’d be – it’s genuinely lovely to see so many supporting young people while they go through a particularly significant time of transition.

But what about when the dust settles and next year’s students are standing in the front row, having seen their peers move on; whether it was an outcome of joy or one of sorrow. Once the summer holidays are over, it’s time for these young people to start their final sprint to the finish line that will ultimately end in another day like today; with them opening an envelope. The media covers exam results with such scrutiny these days; TV segments, interviews, social conversation and well-documented stories of students feeling overwhelmed and stressed – it must be immeasurably unsettling for students that are yet to sit exams to see this common narrative every year and so it’s not surprising that a lot of young people will be going back to school this September already feeling worried and anxious.

In tandem with measures designed to help students manage their time in relation to revision and preparing for exams, it’s arguably just as important to ensure that they feel able to manage any feelings of stress or anxiety without it becoming overwhelming. A certain amount of trepidation and concern over exams and results is completely normal and expected; but when stress becomes a feature of everyday life, well-being suffers.

Among the study skills and pages for students categories in our planner library, you will find content that focuses on developing study skills and learning self-care skills, or SEAL. We’ve summarised some of the details below.

Introducing Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL)

In a SEAL approach, students are taught the skills they need to support their own learning as well as encouraging them to think about how their experience is impacted by others and vice versa. The graphic below shows some examples of questions you might ask students to consider.

Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning

By introducing elements of self awareness, social skills, and empathy as part of a whole-school approach, students are exposed to self assessment along with their peersand are more likely to be able to develop resilience when it comes to exam stress as they have a heightened awareness of how others may feel and are better equipped to support each other (empathy).

Self awareness teaches students how to recognise their own emotions and personally held values, as well as any limitations and strengths they have.

Managing Feelings encourages students to think about their emotions and behaviours as an impacting force on their learning experience, and how these can be used to help them achieve their goals.

Motivation. This deals with making constructive choices in both personal and social settings – and understanding the impact of these choices.

Social Skills will teach students how to work in a team, as well as how to build positive relationships and how to deal with conflict.

Empathy asks that the student understand other people’s points of view, and consider if they are in a position to offer help or support to someone in need.


Other measures – encourage talking and take it back to basics

Sometimes, for many different reasons, young people might find it difficult to ask for help. Whether it’s because they feel they can’t do it in front of their peers or they fear repercussions, a lot of students may struggle in silence. By ensuring there is a process in place that explicitly reassures students that there is a way they can ask for help, your school is taking important steps in protecting student wellness. Several of us here in SPC offices didn’t have such a system (at least not communicated to students) when we were at school, and having a clear outline of who I could have talked to in times of stress or worry would have certainly made my time at school much easier.

As for the basics, most adults can probably recite at least five common ways we’re told to combat the symptoms of stress, but what about our children? Sometimes the simplest of things really is the best place to start and can encourage an enquiring young mind to further investigate ways they can help themselves overcome feelings of stress. Adding tips in check list form is a quick and easily-read way to do this:

  • Make sure you are getting adequate sleep
  • Don’t drink caffeine late at night
  • Plan regular breaks when you are studying
  • Feelings of anxiety can be reduced by deep breathing exercises

Most importantly, students should be reminded at every opportunity that while studying and sitting exams is important, their health and well-being should take priority over everything else.