Exam Stress Mind Hack: Slowing Down Your Breathing – With Mindfulness

By Clare Josa | Stress & Worry

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Exam stress stops your child from thinking clearly, makes it hard for them to concentrate and gets in the way of the kind of thinking that examiners are looking for. When stress kicks off, it alters the body’s chemistry and triggers off stress hormones that move the focus from the bit of your brain that aces exams to the primal bit that worries about whether you can out-run that woolly mammoth.

It’s hard to do well in an exam if your head is too full of negative self-talk to remember the right answers.

But it’s really hard to ‘think’ your way out of negativing thinking. So how can you help your child, if they’re feeling stuck in exam stress?

Here is one of my favourite exam stress mind hacks, a mindfulness technique for exams, which can help to calm your mind, clear your thoughts and even help you to feel happier.


Exam Stress Mind Hack: Slow Down Your Breathing

Telling yourself to calm down, as we all know, usually has the opposite effect. It takes a lot of effort to control your thoughts – and the past ten years of teaching adults to meditate has shown me that most of us can’t do this at all. So when your child is stuck in exam stress, the first mind hack is to utilise the mind-body link by getting them to change something they can control.

When you are stressed, your breathing moves up to the upper chest area, reducing the oxygen in your blood and creating brain fog, making it hard to concentrate and revise. This simple belly breathing brain hack turns that process around:

  1. Do this process with your child, once you have practised it a few times yourself.
  2. Become aware of where your breathing is in your body and, if it feels comfortable to you, consciously shift your focus to the diaphragm area, just below your rib cage.
  3. Allow your breathing to settle as you breathe in and out at that point. Your breathing will naturally start to slow down.
  4. Notice how long a count your in and out-breath are – you might choose seconds or heartbeats. For most of us it’s just one or two seconds each way.
  5. For the next few breaths, add one count. So if your natural rate is in for 2 and out for 2, move to 3 in and 3 out.
  6. Once that feels comfortable, you can extend this by another count.
  7. Keep going with this exercise for about a minute – it doesn’t matter how long the count gets (aim for maximum 5 with a child). What matters is that you can feel your body relaxing, your jaw and eye tension releasing and you feel your thoughts slowing down.
  8. Finish with a smile and discuss with your child how they might remind themselves to play with this, the next time they are feeling stressed.

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How did you get on with this mindfulness exam stress mind hack?

  • What did you notice?
  • Which shifts did you feel in your body?
  • How did it affect your thinking?

I’d love to hear from you, via the comments!

If you know anyone else who might find this technique useful, please share this article with them.

And if you and your child found this fun, there’s another mindfulness technique for exams in my Exam Stress Quick Fix course, which brings you 7 1/2 strategies to ditch exam stress in minutes, not months. You can find out more and get started with it here.

x Clare



About the Author

Clare Josa has spent the past 15 years teaching over a million people to feel less stressed and to make the difference they are really here to make in the world. But when her eldest son hit exam stress - hard - she decided she had to do something to help parents to help their kids, and How to Beat Exam Stress was born. Clare is the author of five life-changing books and her recent debut novel, You Take Yourself With You, has been described by readers as 'unputdownable'.


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