It's that time of year. End of year exams for high-school students. Our teens may be putting on a brave face but there are tell-tale signs for when the stress is becoming overwhelming, risking their mental health, physical health and academic performance. River Tree Health's Psychologist Pia Jones outlines five signs for when your child may be overly stressed and provides tips on what you can do.

5 Signs your child may be stressed about end of year exams

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits; weight gain or loss. Stress can impact your teenager’s appetite and result in decreased appetite and consequent weight loss. Conversely, some teenagers may overeat in an effort to distract themselves from academic stresses. Additionally, if your teenager is complaining about difficulty sleeping, or their sleeping habits have changed, this may be an indication that they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
  • Withdrawal. Whilst it’s normal for many teens to place more importance on their friendship circle over their family, significantly avoiding parents, or expressing excessive hostility toward family members, may indicate your teen is experiencing significant stress.
  • Physical complaints. Stress can appear as physical sensations such as stomach aches, headaches or nausea. If your teenager is requesting time off school due to feeling unwell or is complaining of headaches or stomach aches and your Doctor cannot provide an explanation, your child may be experiencing significant stress.
  • Mood changes. Teenagers experience significant biological and environmental changes, so mood swings are common, however if you have noticed that your teenager’s moods are becoming more pronounced or frequent then this could be a warning sign that they are stressed.
  • Procrastination. Teenagers are likely to engage in some degree of procrastination during their schooling years, however if your teenager appears to have lost motivation to complete school related tasks, is putting off studying for exams or if they are consistently leaving assignments to the very last minute, it may indicate they are experiencing some performance related anxiety.

When seeking to address these behavioural changes with your child, avoid using restrictive eating tactics or trying to force your child to eat more as this may cause undue stress. You might use their eating habits, withdrawal or changes in mood as a vehicle to illustrate that you have noticed changes in their behaviour and that you are there to listen if they want to speak about how they might be feeling. Alternatively, you can offer your child information for suitable services they can access or offer to support your child to engage with a therapist to talk about their concerns. Speaking with a therapist can help your child to make sense of some of feelings they are having as well as helping them to learn to identify when their feelings are impacting their physical health or resulting in avoidance behaviours such as procrastination and withdrawal. With these aspects in mind, in alliance with a therapist, your child can begin to learn healthy new strategies as a coping response to life’s stressors.