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Helping young people manage stress around calculated exam results

Speaking to Emma Lee, a qualified Children and Young People IAPT therapist at Living Well UK, she expresses that young people are likely to be experiencing diverse – and intense – emotions at this time, which are only going to be exacerbated by exam result stresses. She comments:

“Over the past few months, as we’ve navigated these new, uncertain, and unprecedented times, we’ve seen that people’s emotional responses have been more extreme than in a normal context. Of course, for young people, one of the most times that they are most stressed is around exam results day, and despite the unusual circumstances this year, we are likely to see peaks in their emotions.

“Whether you’ve received the results you were expecting or not, it is important to note that your feelings – positive and negative – are valid. You are allowed to feel proud of your achievements and equally you are allowed to feel disappointed or frustrated. Recognise and feel these emotions, and then use them as the springboard to make plans for your next steps.”

Adding to this, Emma has advice for parents, carers, guardians, and friends who might be looking for ways to support those dealing with these new pressures. She says:

“If your child expresses their emotions to you, it is crucial that you listen and validate their feelings – even if they are negative ones. Self-reflection is a huge part of developing emotional intelligence, so encourage them to share their thoughts, and offer praise and reassurance for their recognition. Whether it is that they feel like they don’t deserve the grades they received, or that they didn’t perform as well as they would have in the exams, taking these feelings into consideration and talking about them together will help them process and grow from the experience. Remember, support is the best thing you can offer.”

Asked about how to respond to young people when they say the following, Emma offers this advice:

“I did well, but my results don’t feel real or properly earned because I didn’t actually do the exam”

“Listen to their viewpoint and empathise with them, but remind them how it features in the bigger picture: the grade they have received reflects the hard-work and potential they displayed throughout their studies, and the school has recognised and supported the talent in them. They deserve to feel proud of their results!”

“I did badly – can I just blame the system?”

“Similarly, this is still a valid viewpoint, and feeling frustrated or disappointed at the circumstances is completely normal. Remember that listening is crucial and praising them for their emotional reflection is key here. Here, it is useful to reiterate that everyone is navigating the same situation, in the same circumstances, so they aren’t alone in their feelings. However, rather than looking for something to blame, focus on what’s in store next, and how they can achieve their future goals with what they’ve got.”

“I wish I’d tried harder in my mocks. I didn’t now then how much they’d end up counting”

“This is a reaction that we expect to see a lot, so your child won’t be alone in feeling this way. This is an opportunity for your child to develop their resilience too; a key tool which will be instrumental in future situations when things don’t go as planned. Focus on the opportunities that it offers. Once you’ve talked through your child’s feelings and processed their emotions, a useful task to do together is to look at what the next steps are: research what options are available, whether that’s retaking exams or re-evaluating how they reach their goals in a new way. Remember to be encouraging, but also realistic – don’t offer false hope, but instead prioritise real solutions.”

“What if these exam results – that don’t reflect what I’m capable of – affect the rest of my future?”

“This can feel like a negative outlook, but it’s a really positive and encouraging factor that your child is looking ahead to what is in store. Focus on praising them, nurturing their determination to still achieve their ambitions, and start illustrating the wider picture. Empower them to take control and consider their future options: a lot of support will be available and both colleges and universities will be taking into account the circumstances, so look at – and use – the advice available to adjust next steps accordingly. Set new road maps and targets, encouraging them to be realistic, by maintaining honesty. It’s also an option to suggest that they take action, ringing the colleges/university to discuss options. Not only does this grow their sense of responsibility, but it gives them a task to complete that will make them feel in control again.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and would like any advice or support, Living Well UK is here to help. You can call us for free on 0121 663 1217 or go online for our live chatline, where one of our specialist team members will be on-hand to talk and share any guidance.