It’s that intense time of year coming upon us again! Students, children and parents alike grind through months of trying to finish school or college work whilst expected to fit in revision, important birthday parties, pass driving tests, visit future colleges and attend end of year balls! It’s a time of year that many of us slightly older folk are glad we are not going through again! I took some exams for the first time in decades a couple of years ago and it really brought it all home! In fact, having carried out exams every year from age 11 to 23, I didn’t want to face any more until I was in my late 20s. So taking them in my early 50s was a bit of a shock! But I don’t suffer with exam nerves and in fact used to enjoy the challenge and the satisfaction of the culmination of so much work carried out during the year. It is often a time when things lf esteemsem to come together and make sense! It is also a time to hopefully show off your abilities. These days’ teachers regularly complain about how much testing there is now at schools. It is hard for students to learn how to enjoy their subjects and teachers are constantly marking. I won’t go into my view of a utopian education system but it would include so many wonderful life skills such as communication, confidence building, creative visualisation, hypnosis, meditation, yoga, regular first aid, parental classes, better sex and finance education and most importantly how to be a happy and fulfilled human being! I ended up rebelling for a while in the Upper 6th because I felt I was just a statistic to be read out on Speech day, with sports, some art and music achievement just about tolerated but god forbid you were interested in drama or other creative arts. There are some alternative and progressive schools starting to move in the right direction but we’ve got a long way to go and we seem to be going backwards!

Common entrances and GCSEs can be the first hurdles for children and some pupils have such an astounding amount of work that they start exams as early as March! Then, the one most of us recall as being so intense because we were also learning a new style of working, the dreaded A levels! Less assessment and taking all exams at the end of the upper 6th seems to be back now. One of my client’s Biology mock was quite a shock since it is the first time this new exam has been set, with no past examples to practice on, and having to carry out mathematical calculations they had not even been taught! She had come for social anxiety but like so many young clients we end up doing some hypnotherapy to help with looming exams. Some Universities luckily spread their exams over two years but places like my hometown of Oxford dump it all on their students in the final year. Then there are the young adults in continuous education like Doctors and Vets. It can feel relentless. So it is not surprising that clients come to me literally tearing their hair out or crushed by how overwhelming it can feel. Yes even brilliant Oxford students, the supposed crème de la crème of the populous, can feel that their lives are crumbling around them, their self- esteems crushed and demands on their social, relationship, musical or sports lives too much to handle as they try to navigate entering the adult world. High achieving 15-18 year olds can also have so much on their plates with pressure to perform extra curricular activities which look good on their UCAS applications, such as Duke of Edinburgh award, musical grades, punishing rowing regimes, etc. My heart goes out to them. I can see their potential and like their teachers and parents want them to make the best of their opportunities and be appreciated for the special and unique young people they are.

Having had an academic education myself, gone to one of the top girls schools, and a Russell University, then continued education over the years as I changed career, I used to hold it up as particularly important. That was partly because of my grammar school educated Mum who, despite being top of her class age 13, had consciously chosen boys over education and didn’t want me to make the same mistake! Luckily for her I was a tomboy until I was 16 but unfortunately discovered boys during Mock A levels! So I learnt my own difficult lessons and it illustrates how we all mature at different ages! She had trained as a nurse but my Dad had left school age 17 to become an apprentice mechanic and ended up creating one of the largest privately owned car franchises in the country in the 70s.

Like so many students, passing exams was a source of self-esteem and pride for me. Flopping anything was absolutely devastating and something that taught me a huge lesson! In fact my best friend in the last year of Uni whom I flat shared with in London competed with the current PM for her job last summer – so our Politics degree went to good use! But as I got older and had more life experiences – and yes had the advantage of working for myself and no longer having to climb a corporate ladder – I realised that it is NOT the most important thing! By the time I got out of Uni I was unclear of what I wanted to do, taking German lessons and typing in London whilst I job hunted and started a badly paid job in a Mayfair commercial property agency whilst living in a crummy flat. However some of my friends who had flunked most of their O levels had good salaries and owned their first homes! They became quite entrepreneurial and now they have thriving businesses. Some were dyslexic and despite how little this was recognised back in the 60s and 70s they have sold businesses for millions. I hope that we do follow the German example of making technical schools equally important and encourage more apprenticeships.

So I know you do not have to pass exams to get anywhere and in fact the current student loans are quite crippling. But of course degrees can bolster self-esteem and self-worth, open doors that otherwise might remain shut, be a great advantage in the world of employment, teach you to compete and to strive for excellence, focus your attention on the subject of your choice and teach you how to think. They can produce people who save lives, build bridges, invent machines, create incredible technology – and recently discover ways to make salt water drinkable! Just Imagine! Imagination is key in hypnotherapy – mentally rehearsing in order to create new pathways in our brains. One of the facets of hypnotherapy is that we are helping our amazing brains to work better. I always compare the neurological pathways in our brains to muscles that need to go to the gym to repeatedly practice exercises in order to improve and change as well as having some relaxing time on the yoga mat. Our brains need exercising in order to work well. Some people push harder than others and as long as it is they themselves who want to excel, and not just their parents, then it is good to help and encourage this.

Our brains are meant to create subconscious habits in order to function but it can also slip into negative repetitive patterns. That includes anxiety and fear. This is a physiological reaction to stress that kicks in our primitive survival mode and can even lead to terrifying and crippling panic attacks. Students might also be going through huge hormonal, social and life changing events and the burden can be too much. We also know that with the increase in entertainment technology as well as easier access to socialising, students are not getting enough sleep. Teenagers need 9 hours and as research is showing work better later in the morning than we expect them too. All of this adds to the pressure. Hypnotherapy helps with an extra dose of important REM sleep as well as relaxation and subconscious positive suggestions. I knew one highly intelligent, achieving, beautiful young lady with all of the advantages of extremely intelligent parents, the best schools and opportunities, who was more concerned – quite naturally – with what her 16 yr old ex boyfriend was saying about her weight and figure on social media. How do you get through to a 17 yr old girl how and why an immature insecure young chap can be so cruel? But that is where rebuilding self-esteem and self-worth come in and helping them to feel more empowered as their maturing process naturally develops over time. Teaching them perspective and helping them to refocus on what really matters to them. It is all part of the process. So how many of you ‘middle agers’ would like to go through all of that again?! It’s bad enough that I have to go through this piece again removing the extra space after each sentence! 😉

So it is not just about calming nerves about impending weighty exams. It is a whole picture of their lives. As Caitlin Moran would say, “building a Girl” and building a Boy! It is the most wonderful fulfilling and satisfying feeling when a young person leaves your therapy room feeling confident, focused and empowered again. Unless they have had a very difficult childhood, getting back in touch with that 10 year old who never questioned their own value, abilities and sense of Self. Yes – Punch the Air – and just do your best in those Exams then enjoy those long summer holidays!!


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