Exam results and resilience
Nicola Morgan, author of The Teenage Guide to Stress and Blame My Brain - The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, among other books, shows teenagers and parents how to deal with exam results that are not what you'd hoped
'Tis the season to be stressed about exam results. In Scotland, pupils have already been through results day on August 5th but, in England, A-level results are out on Thursday 14th and GCSEs on Thursday 21st.
I can't stop this being a stressful time for those of you going through it, because so many hours/weeks/months of hard work, worry and hopes have gone into this moment. (And I have blogged before about how exam results are not the be-all and end-all.) But I can talk about something that psychologists believe is a crucial factor in mental health and wellbeing: resilience.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back after bad news or any negative occurrence. There's a good definition and more information here.
There are certain factors which, if you have them, will be likely to make you more naturally resilient. (See the list on that link.) But what if you lack those things? Not everyone has good family relationships, for example. Or good communication skills. Luckily, we know that resilience is something we can develop, even if our early childhood experiences, for example, did not help us.
So, if you look at that list of "factors that contribute to resilience" on the link above, you can see that they can be developed, some more easily than others, perhaps with help from adults who understand. Some of them you might even feel you can work on and develop a bit yourself.
Parents, carers, schools, friends - all have a role in helping us develop resilience. Good schools and good families help hugely. But sometimes even well-meaning adults don't say the right thing. Or your school may not have realised that you needed different support. Or you may feel that your parents are "just saying I'm wonderful because they're my parents". If so, The Teenage Guide to Stress goes a long way to helping you find strategies to improve resilience. It helps you see things in context, to realise that you're not alone, that things will change and you can gain control over your life and yourself.
If you feel undermined, over-stressed, in a state of panic or fear after a bad experience with exams, you may need help to put this in context and find ways to move forward strongly. I don't necessarily mean professional help. As I say often in The Teenage Guide to Stress: talk to a trusted adult. We all need to talk things through with someone else, sometimes. To put things in context and find ways to move forward.
You may not feel strong now but you can learn to be. That doesn't mean you'll never worry again - I spent last night lying awake worrying... And in fact a certain amount of worrying about the future can make us think things through properly and make good decisions. But you can learn not to be destroyed by the tough things that happen and bounce back to fight again another day.
If your results weren't what you hoped for, at first the emotion will feel raw. You'll wonder how you'll ever feel different. I promise you will feel different! Allow yourself a day or two to feel gutted - that's OK. That's what emotion feels like. But then find a way of saying, "OK, so this has happened. I can't make it not happen but I can deal with it." Dealing with it involves adapting - adapting your thinking from "this is what I was going to do next" to "now I'm going to do something a bit differently". It might mean retaking an exam, or it might mean taking a different path entirely, or just a slightly different one, or waiting a while. But there are many, many different paths. And some will be better than the one you originally planned.
Resilience means being open-minded to new paths. But when the emotion is raw or the stress levels high, it's hard to see those paths at all. So, breathe, talk, and keep your eyes open. You can find a way to bounce back and be stronger.
Find out more about Nicola Morgan's books, events and teaching resources about the brain and mental health - here.