As we approach A level and GCSE results days this year, we are facing something unknown, something that our young people and our teachers certainly weren’t anticipating when they started their final year of studies together. This year thousands of students across the country didn’t sit those all-important exams, but instead are being graded based on previous attainment and expected targets; a centre assessed grade.
There is no doubting that results day is fraught with nerves for many regardless of the grading systems, so we can only imagine the levels of anticipation our young people are going through right now, managing their trust in the system against the feelings of loss of opportunity and let down the coronavirus as caused. But what can we do to help ourselves manage those feelings and be prepared for the big day, and what do we do after?
The first thing to do is to recognise that your experience is going to be different from what other people around you will go through. You may have a positive day, have secured the grades you need and come away feeling great, whilst others may feel let down on one or more of their subject outcomes. Whatever your experience, and whatever you are feeling, that is ok. It’s ok because you deserve to have the space to accept your emotions and process what you are going through.
It is also ok, because whatever happens on results day – this does not define your life forever. We promise. It may not get you where you need to go right away, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there. And if you don’t know what you want to do next, that’s fine too. There are plenty of people you can talk to, to figure that out.
Leading up to results day
Stress and anxiety can display itself in many different ways: physically, in our thoughts or maybe in our behaviours, but they are all part of the same feeling and all share a connection we can manage if we have the right tools.
We’re going to share with you the ‘Stress Cycle’ to help break this down.
When we feel stressed, there is always a trigger of some sort. In this case we are talking about exam day
It is likely that you’ll experience Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs). This is when you are thinking things like ‘I am going to fail’ or ‘It will be a bad day’ and you may not necessarily always pick up on these straight away. Those can then lead to feelings of anxiousness and nervousness, perhaps even anger.
What happens next is that our body often responds to the feelings we are having, and sometimes we notice this before we realise why. It is the body’s way of warning us of how we are feeling or processing emotions. With stress this can often mean a loss of appetite, shakiness, tension and those butterflies in our tummies. Our behaviour then changes because of this; we may want to hide or avoid what we know we need to face. We may even snap at others or start to cry. This then triggers more of those thoughts and the cycle begins again.
But you can break this cycle.
By having strategies in place that you have tried and tested, you can break that cycle and begin to manage stress and anxiety well. Here is some advice often utilised in therapies to help you own what you are going through:
Challenge those thoughts. Often the NATs we have are irrational and have no evidence. Try to recognise what you are thinking and challenge the thoughts one by one, even if you need to write them down. For example, ‘It is going to be a bad day’. What real evidence do you have, that would stand up in a court of law, to prove that it will in fact be a bad day. Do you know for certain? I bet you don’t. In which case that NAT is useless to us and untrue, making it easier to dismiss.
Understand your physical symptoms and respond to them. If you know your heart beat has increased, or your breathing has changed, take a second to stop and slow down. Take three deep breaths in and out. Reset yourself. If your appetite has changed, try to get the nutrients you need in another way. Could you drink a smoothie, could you eat something small or bland? Do you need to sleep? Try to take a nap or get an early night.
Write down how you are feeling. It may be that you have what feels like a million and one thoughts racing through your mind. Keep a little notepad with you and write them down. That will make it easier to sort out what is important and what is not, and leave you in a better position to challenge them.
Talk to people. Never underestimate the importance of sharing how you feel with your friends, family or someone in your life. They’ll be able to relate in some way and help you to normalise your feelings, and if not there will be someone else in your world who will. Spending time with others can also be a great distraction from how you are feeling.
Managing the ‘what ifs’. What if questions can be deafening to some of us. ‘What if I don’t get my grades?’ ‘What if I’m sad?’ ‘What if I disappoint others?’. We cannot be certain what will happen, that is something we have to accept as humans. So spending time and energy trying to predict bad outcomes isn’t going to help anyone. You can come up with some simple solutions sure, but again it is wasted energy on something that may not even happen. Try to ground yourself, tell yourself ‘what if is not going to help me’ and you can gain the strength to be bigger than the ‘what if’s in your mind.
On the day
When results day comes around, remember this advice and take some time to recognise the achievements you have made throughout your time at school. All those times you thought you couldn’t, but you did.
Take the time and space to process the way you need to – there is no pressure to open envelopes in front of others if you don’t want to. Take it home, take it to your car, take it to a quiet spot in a park or on the school grounds. You are your first priority here so do what you need to do.
If you need to cry, cry. If you need to laugh, laugh. If you want to share with others – share with your teachers and your loved ones, but also be mindful of what other students might be experiencing.
Talk to your teachers if you are confused or need help. If you don’t know what your options are they can help, and they will. Just because you have collected your grades, it does not mean you are alone in this, we are still there to help and guide you to your next destination.
You are on your own journey, and that journey is far from over. And again, this is one chapter of your life, and you can start to write the next one in whatever way you need to, to get to where you want to go. Whether that is re-sitting exams or finding alternative routes into your chosen career/studies.