Food for thought for those with exam stress

We are almost halfway through GCSE and A level exams and like many parents, I am finding that the stress levels in my household are still rising. It is difficult for any child to escape from the enormous pressure on them to perform and as parents, we cannot help but get stressed too. Which means that tempers often get a little frayed…It is difficult to gage the mood of most teenagers at the best of times. However, when you add in the extra burden of sitting their final exams, you cannot even attempt to anticipate their reaction to everyday life. Now I must walk on eggshells when I ask about their day and how their revision is going.

Stress can transform even the most innocent comment into something loaded with sarcasm, creating a misunderstanding and the perfect opportunity to blow off some steam. Texting is even riskier. One forgotten winky emoji and now you’re being aggressive. It is no wonder that like most families, we are counting down the days until we reach the summer break.

Although it is difficult for parents to get through their children’s exams unscathed, help is at hand. There are some simple steps that you can take to help them cope better with exam stress. The biggest difference that you can make to their well-being and stress levels is to look at what they are eating and drinking. Are they eating a healthy diet at home? What about at school? Are they skipping breakfast? The Eatwell Guide is a good place to start to see if their diet is up to scratch. In fact, a healthy diet that includes nutritious, balanced meals and snacks will give them long-lasting energy needed to revise and stay focused on their exams. Fuelling up with the right foods will also keep their blood sugar levels steady which helps to keep their mood and stress levels in check.

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Remembering these 3 food stress-busters will help you fuel them up for success:

Stess buster 1: Carb up! Carbohydrates are the most important fuel to provide power and long-lasting energy for the brain. When we eat complex carbohydrates, we digest them more slowly which keeps our energy and blood sugar levels stable for longer.

You can do this by basing meals and snacks on foods that contain healthy complex carbohydrates such as wholewheat bread, rice, pasta, barley, spelt, oats and starchy vegetables including sweet potatoes, squashes and potatoes.

Stess buster 2: Get your 5-a-day (or make it 7) – Fruit and vegetables contain many of the vitamins and minerals we need every day to grow, develop and stay healthy. They also contain carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars that will help to fuel your brain.

However, unlike foods that are naturally sweet such as honey and raisins, and those with added sugar such as sweets, chocolate and cakes, the fibre content of fruits and vegetables helps us to digest them more slowly, preventing a rapid sugar high followed by a crashing low.

Stess buster 3: Keep hydrated – Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid every day but stick to water and lower-fat milk. Our bodies need water for many of its essential functions and staying hydrated means your brain will perform at its best and keep you alert.

Avoid drinks high in sugar and caffeine such as fizzy drinks, energy drinks, smoothies and fruit juices to avoid a sugar rush and crash, and to prevent dehydration.

Lastly, if you have children, exams are just a part of school life. You might as well keep calm and hang in there. Although it may feel at times that you are living with your children’s stressed out, moody doppelgangers, this soon will pass. Perhaps not soon enough but as they say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Hopefully, it will be in time for next year’s new lot of exams.

In the meantime, I find that at least it is more difficult to have a stress-induced meltdown with a mouthful of food. Which brings me to a stress-free recipe (and one of our favourite Friday night dinners), the 1-2-3 Rice bowl.

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