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How to help your kids combat exam stress

As GCSE and A-Level exams approach, we sought help from Surrey-based therapeutic life coach Michele Poulton on how to help teenagers cope with the stress of exams.

There’s no denying it’s as tough as ever to be a teenager nowadays, and academic pressures and exam stress can often wreak havoc on even the calmest of families. 

We spoke to Michele Poulton, a Guildford-based therapeutic life coach, to find out her best advice for teenagers (and young adults) feeling the strain that comes with exams.

Your school and university days should be your happiest apparently … but the number of teenagers and university students (as well as adults) who are struggling with anxiety and low mood is growing exponentially.

So how can we help them (and ourselves) to build the skills so they feel good about life and able to cope when things aren’t going to plan?


  • Give yourself space to listen to how you feel emotionally and physically, and then accept whatever crops up. Accepting the negative emotions instead of trying to hide or change them is helpful.
  • Do something good for someone else. Notice if someone looks down and check in with them – even a smile can change someone’s day.  Helping someone else makes you feel good about yourself 
  • See things that go wrong as opportunities to learn, NOT catastrophes that define your life 
  • Change your language. Listen to how you speak to yourself and others. The use of words like disaster, nightmare and failure penetrates deep into the subconscious. Your body is alert to these threats which can make you feel anxious or stressed. 
  • Be grateful. This is a game changer and trains the brain to look for the good not the bad. It can help to list three things every day to be grateful for.
  • Ask yourself what you need. If you feel down – what do you need? Is it someone to listen to you, or a hug? Be brave and ask for what you need.
  • Look at what you eat. Too much wheat lowers our mood. And if most meals are based on wheat, like cereal, pizza, pasta and bread then it might be time to change this.
  • Exercise. We all know how this can impact our mood, but being sedentary all day will certainly lead to feeling foggy headed and lethargic. Just standing instead of sitting makes a difference and getting up every 30 minutes to move is a good start.


  • Learn to manage your feelings. Feelings don’t define you, they come and go like the weather. It is possible to change how you react and feel about something, and understanding this is an important life skill
  • Develop your emotional intelligence. A better understanding of yourself changes how you experience life and how you relate to others.
  • Empathy. Everyone makes choices based on their past experiences. And what might seem ridiculous to you, feels perfectly rational to someone else, or vice versa.
  • Breathing through anxiety and stress. Focussing on breathing, takes your attention away from a stressful situation and calms the mind at the same time. Breathing in to the count of four, holding your breath to the count of four, breathing out to the count of four, holding your breath to the count of four. This simple technique is an easy way to help manage stress.


  • Life is meant to be challenging – we are not going to feel upbeat all the time and that is normal 
  • Model resilience. If they always see you coping, juggling everything and being on top, your children will feel shame when they’re not keeping up. Conversely, if you are constantly drowning and anxious about life, you teach them to be scared and overwhelmed.
  • Happiness comes from within. As an emotion, happiness is a sense of peace and calm in our minds and our bodies – it is not related to what we achieve, what we earn or where we Iive. As parents we can teach our children those values.
  • Be kind. It’s sounds so simple, and it is – just be kind! Refrain from being critical, disapproving or judgemental.


  • Working with someone who can guide you through the process of self discovery and healing, is a something we can all benefit from. The work can be surprisingly quick and is often enjoyable.  Like an amazing adventure into the corners of your mind – revealing memories and emotions that you had no idea were there, but they come along to sabotage you throughout life until you shift and release them. If others are telling you that you’re over reacting, if you feel angry, sad or stressed, if you have had a difficult past experience and similar emotions keep cropping up, or you are blocking your emotions and feeling nothing, healing will help you.

Michele Poulton is a therapeutic coach who conducts sessions in Guildford, Central London or via Zoom. She tailors each session to the needs of her clients – combining holistic counselling and healing, life coaching and energy healing methods including EFT (tapping). She offers several different techniques and promises a safe place where your story is valued and accepted. Michele works regularly with both children, teenagers and adults. Read more about her practices here.

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