Being a parent of a child taking GCSE exams and looking after wellbeing: Guest Post by David Welham

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(image: http://thesprout.co.uk)

Millions of parents would have experienced the stress and anxiety this summer in the UK with their children taking GCSE’s.

As a parent I was no different and wanted to share my experience. Exams are so different from when I took them. There are more, they take place over just a weeks and in my opinion changes to GCSE’s have been rushed without thinking about the effect on our children’s mental health. 

It seems that they were changed because employers were feeling that they were too easy.

As if my son didn’t have enough to occupy his mind, his future, should he do an apprenticeship, or should he go to college and not to mention the intense revision and preparation for exams.

I remember talking to other parents who also felt the same and expressed real concerns that their children would struggle to cope. They all said what happens if he or see is struggling I am not sure where to go or to talk to. We agreed that if I as a parent appear anxious how can I expect my child to cope.

Its fine just saying things will be OK and not to worry but I did worry, and I secretly just wanted the three weeks to pass as quickly as possible. 

My son decided that Xbox would be too much of a distraction and that it can be put away. I thought that this was mature and the right decision. He worked out a revision plan and we thought about his downtime, but I could still see anxiety and worry.

So I made a plan to make sure that he looked after his wellbeing. Checking in that he was alright and that he looked after his physical health and mental health. I was aware that it was important to take time out from the revision and as advised by school not to stop doing what he likes and change his routine. 

He went to the gym and out with his friends to maintain his relationships. We also planned things as a family as well in-between revision. This broke up the daily grind but there were still periods when I was concerned that he wouldn’t get through it.

I read articles in the news and spoke to school but talking to my son there were children who really struggled. He said that they were really not coping with their mental health. I worried when I heard about children crying, running out of the exam room and parents being called to take them home.

This can’t be right and is something that more research should be undertaken into the effects during exams as I can’t help thinking that we are setting them up for serious problems with their mental health further down the line.

I have suggestions on how to lessen the stress and anxiety during exam time.

Spread the exams over a longer period to give teenagers a bit of breathing space and allow them to take a break. If the exams were spread out there would be less intensity and time to do other things in their lives. I would also suggest there is less focus on the results and outcome and that children can just be children, without such a great amount of stress.

David Welham is a mental health writer from the UK

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Guest post by Lucy Boyle: What you need to know about Burnout Syndrome

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Stress and pressure are a part of everyday life. Our jobs often bring a fast pace; we may have to meet deadlines, complete projects in a certain timeframe, or put up with stressful environments. No matter who you are or what you do, there’s a certain amount of stress that just “comes with the job”.

However, there are times when the pressure gets to be too much. You may have been dealing with days, weeks, months, or even years of too much work and not enough downtime. The stresses of the job may be piling up with the stresses at home. Eventually, you run the risk of what is known as “burnout syndrome”.

Burnout syndrome, also known as occupational or job burnout, is defined as “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” The symptoms of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Frustration and negative emotions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Reduced performance on the job
  • Lack of personal care, unhealthy coping mechanisms (eating, smoking, drinking, etc.)
  • Interpersonal difficulties, both on the job and at home
  • Preoccupation with work, even when you’re not working
  • Chronic health problems
  • Illness (the result of chronic stress)
  • Headaches
  • Decreased satisfaction with the quality of your life

If you’re noticing these symptoms in your life, you may be suffering from or getting close to burnout.

But what causes burnout syndrome? How does it get from “I’m having a bad day at work” to the feeling of being overwhelmed, overburdened, and emotionally drained? There are a lot of things that can contribute to the feelings of burnout.

  • Interpersonal relationship problems at work, with coworkers, employees, or employers.
  • A lack of control in your life, feeling like you have no say in anything that goes on at work or home.
  • A lack of clarity in your job description or burden of responsibilities.
  • Monotony or chaos in your job—both can require a lot of energy to remain focused.
  • Company ethics, values, or methods of handling feedback, grievances, or complaints that are not aligned with yours.
  • A job that doesn’t fit with your skills or interest.
  • Isolation at work or home; you may feel like your social support is lacking.
  • An imbalance in your work-life routine, usually too much time spent at work and not enough at home.

All of these factors can add to your feelings of stress and anxiety. Over time, they simply INCREASE until you feel like the burden of your job is too much to bear.

The truth is that occupational burnout is incredibly common, especially among human service professions. ER physicians, nurses, social workers, teachers, engineers, lawyers, police officers, and customer service reps are all at a very high risk of burnout. The high-pressure environment and occupation add to the emotional demands of the job. Eventually, everything becomes too much to bear and you suffer from burnout.

So what can you do if you’re feeling burned out? How can you cope with the mounting stress and pressure that may eventually become too much to bear?

Engage socially. Social interaction and connection is one of the most effective antidotes to depression, anxiety, and stress. Spending time with family, friends, and coworkers can help you to feel better. Making friends at work can change the environment positively, making work seem less stressful because of you have a social support framework in place. Open up to people and share your feelings. It can release some of the pressure building inside you and encourage better connection with others.

Reframe your perspective. Instead of seeing work as a bore, a chore, or a stressor, try to find value in what you do. Your job benefits someone, so look at what you do as providing an invaluable service.

Evaluate your priorities. What’s more important to you: work or home life? If your career is important, find ways to focus on it without adding to your stress. Work on a better work-life balance. Take more time off work, even if it means someone else gets the promotion you wanted. Set boundaries on your time and availability. Set aside time to relax and unwind, both in the middle of and at the end of the day. Stop rushing around so much—from home to work and back home again. Focus on what matters: your health and happiness!

Change your lifestyle. Get more sleep. Eat better. Exercise more. Drink less coffee and alcohol. Read more books. Walk in the park more. Take a nap in the middle of the day. Move around more. Quit smoking. Improve your lifestyle, and you’ll find your body and mind better able to cope with the feelings of stress that could lead to burnout.

In the end, YOU are the one in control of your life. Make the decisions that will reduce stress, not add to it. Take care of your body, mind, and emotions, and you’ll avoid those feelings of burnout!

Lucy Boyle (@BoyleLucy2), is a full-time mother, blogger and freelance business consultant, interested in finance, business, home gardening and mental health.