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.
It’s hard to believe that it is already May and we are well into the Spring. Although there is one thing that reminds me that despite the unpredictable weather, change is in the air. Or rather, there has been a ‘change of air’ as there is something that is now, thankfully, absent. No longer am I greeted with the unmistakeable thick stench of abandoned muddy rugby boots every time I cross my front door. Strangely, there always seems to be more pairs of boots and empty gumshield cases than children in my household. But I don’t dare open any unfamiliar looking boot bags among the heap, lest I disturb their murky contents.
For now, though, it is safe to breathe in deeply and enjoy the Spring air. Rugby season has finally finished, which means some temporary relief from the particular ‘rugby smell’ that can assault your nostrils when you least expect it. It will be almost 5 months before the season begins again and one of my children will be forced to delve through the dirty kit in search of their missing gumshield. But this doesn’t mean that I will now be able to put up my feet and try to remember what we used to do on the weekend before spending it on the sidelines. For my family, the end of one sport always kickstarts the next and since it’s Spring, it can only be athletics and the beginning of track season.
I had a bit of a double-take the other day when I read about two recent diet-related news stories. The first headline referred to a report on a French study that showed a link between ultra-processed foods and cancer, suggesting that the more of them you ate, the greater your chances were of getting cancer. So far, no surprises there and even my own children’s response when I shared this news with them was a sarcastic shrug and a ‘Yeah, I know?!’ They were not alone in dismissing this as ‘news’ because despite the best efforts of the newspapers and tv programmes who featured the story and tried to whip up interest, the lack of controversy meant the story quickly died away. However, just because it is widely believed that the more processed something is, the worse it is for you, it does not mean that you will change your behaviour. It is also true that not everyone who eats a diet full of ultra-processed foods necessarily chooses to do so. Which brings me to the second piece of news that I read with interest.
Many people will still be experiencing a welcome relief since Veganuary finally ended. It was a long month, but no longer do you feel the watchful eyes of friends and work colleagues on you at all mealtimes and you can safely return to your old habits with impunity. Or at least, without anyone questioning your food choices publicly. However, many people will have also been surprised to discover that their month of meaty abstinence really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, whether you waltzed through the month as a born again vegan or if you barely made it to the February, only confirming your commitment to being a proud carnivore, you may have done yourself more good than you realised. For some, choosing to follow a month-long vegan diet may have left them with some unexpected side effects. Thankfully, I don’t mean the compulsion to continue telling everyone about their month of denial. But even those that ditched veganism the second they could, may have inadvertently adopted some better food habits that could last a lifetime.
Now I have to say that I am neither advocating veganism as the magic bullet to guarantee a long life and inner peace nor suggesting that following a vegan diet is the best way to get a healthy, balanced diet. There will always be people brimming with good health who follow a particular diet and obviously, this includes many devotees of veganism. However, there are also plenty of others who rely too heavily on ready meals and junk food and it makes no difference to the quality of their diet if they are labelled as being vegetarian, vegan, paleo or gluten-free. In fact, some of the biggest cake eaters I know also happen to be vegetarian.
With our Christmas tree down and the accompanying paraphernalia long packed away, our empty house and bare walls only emphasise a clean start to the new year. Change is in the air. At least, most hope things will improve on many fronts in 2018. Meanwhile, on an individual level, many have already made a change for themselves and are halfway through January as a teetotaller, vegan, raw water drinker or exercise fanatic. But even if you haven’t joined the masses and embraced a new food or exercise fad, you will still have to contend with the repetitive commercials and programs focusing on diet trends and quick weight loss. Amongst all this comes the news that parents are failing their children, again, when it comes to a healthy diet. Yes, it’s a cheery Happy New Year from Public Health England (PHE) who have launched their latest campaign even while the remnants of Christmas stockings are still hanging around many households.