TESTS – some tips for staying calm before, during & after.

This year, exams aren’t happening in the usual way. Instead pupils are taking tests and completing assessments. These might be during class time or more formally in the gym hall. This can still be a nerve-wracking experience. Here are some tips to help you manage your nerves so that you can do the very best on the day.

Before the test

  • If you haven’t slept well or at all the night before, don’t worry. Adrenaline will get you through the day much better than you think.
  • Don’t worry if you really can’t manage to eat on the morning of a test – your body will catch up. But do try to drink something to keep you hydrated.

During the test

If you start to PANIC, here are some tips to help you calm yourself down and keep focused.

  • Panic is the effect of the symptoms of anxiety. When you are anxious, your body produces more adrenaline, which causes a faster heartbeat, faster breathing, feeling faint, tense stomach etc, These symptoms are uncomfortable but they can’t harm you. See this great BBC video on stress and how to manage it.
  • Stop, and take a few slow deep breaths to calm your body and slow your adrenaline down. Tell yourself you are feeling anxious but you will be ok.

If you find you have a MIND-BLANK, or you are overloaded with information – try these tips.

  • Take some deep, slow breaths and feel your body relax.
  • Focus – take your mind somewhere else. Maybe count how many desks are in each row, how many people have brown hair, how many words can you make out of the letters of your name. This will calm your mind, focus it down, and then you can apply yourself to the test paper.
  • Take your time – read the questions over again slowly and pull out the main points. If things aren’t any clearer, then leave it for now and move on to the next question.
  • Self-talk – you might start telling yourself “I can’t do this”, “I know I’m going to fail”. Replace these thoughts with positive ones like “It’s OK, I’m going to be fine” or “relax, concentrate and I’ll be OK”.
  • Grounding objects – some people find it comforting to carry or wear something which is associated with a person or place. If you start to panic or feel stressed, touch this object and think about the person or situation. This can calm you down and help you regain your focus.

After the test

  • Don’t focus on what you think you did wrong, or on the question you didn’t complete. Instead, remember how much you did answer and what you know you got right.
  • Try to avoid a test post-mortem with your friends. Going over what you wrote, and comparing your answers to your friend’s answers, can only make you feel anxious. It’s too late – you can’t go back and change what you wrote. Instead, enjoy the feeling of one more test ticked off.
  • If you do feel you have messed up, talk to family, teachers or friends and talk through your options. It may be possible to re-do the test, a previous assessment may count instead, or the consequences of a lower mark may not be too drastic.

Good luck everyone.

Some extra tips are here in short videos from BBC Radio 1.

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3 easy steps to stress-free revision

Revising can be stressful and overwhelming. These 3 steps can reduce your stress and help you manage your time and workload effectively. Good luck!revision


  • Draw up a revision timetable. Make sure it’s realistic for you. Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing – even if your friend has read Macbeth 14 times, don’t panic. Do what works for you.
  • When do you work best? Are you an early bird or a night owl? Plan your timetable to take this into account.
  • Do you need to sit at a tidy and ordered desk or do you prefer to sprawl out on the bed surrounded by your notes? Wherever is comfortable for you is the best place to be.
  • No one can concentrate for 6 hours straight, so plan smaller chunks of revision and include lots of breaks. See the Pomodoro technique for some great tips on time management.
  • Vary your timetable so that you don’t get bored. No one can survive 4 hours of flat out biology! Mix up the subjects so that your brain doesn’t switch off.


It’s important to build some relaxation time into your revision timetable.

  • Reward yourself – take regular breaks and plan some rewards. Maybe take the afternoon off to go to the cinema with friends. Allow yourself an hour of Netflix/Xbox/Playstation in the middle of maths revision. How about going for a walk before tackling history? Plan something to celebrate the end of exams with friends or family.
  • Talk – Virtually everyone finds revision and exams stressful – there won’t be many of your friends who breeze through the coming weeks and months. So you aren’t alone. Share your worries with friends, family, teachers etc and get some support.
  • Look after yourself – eat well, eat healthily with plenty of carbs to fuel your brain. Avoid tonnes of chocolate and litres of caffeine-heavy energy drinks – this will only make you more jittery and less able to concentrate.
  • Exercise – Get outside and do something to clear your head, move your body and release any physical tension that has built up whilst you’ve been hunched over your books.
  • RelaxIf you are feeling stressed, find a calm and quiet place to sit and practice deep breathing or even try a visualisation.

Part 3 – SLEEP

  • Try and get plenty of sleep and avoid staying up to the small hours revising. After a certain time at night, your brain just won’t be able to absorb any more information.
  • If you have difficulty sleeping, there are lots of good tips on getting a good night’s sleep here.

If you are finding things difficult to cope with, Westend Counselling can support you in the run-up to and during exams. Contact us here.


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Females & autism

wordcloud ACurrently there are about four autistic boys to every one girl with autism. However, with the increasing knowledge of the causes of autism and increased understanding of the broad range of characteristics within the spectrum, it is recognised that there is an under-diagnosis of autism in girls.

Girls are either being mis-diagnosed, or their autism is being missed altogether. The diagnostic tools used in the past are based on the male traits of autism and they don’t pick up the presentation of autism in girls. In addition, girls tend to mask their symptoms and therefore their difficulties aren’t so obvious.

In some cases the girl may be diagnosed with anxiety, low mood, an eating disorder or OCD. Self-harming behaviour is a commonly used coping strategy for undiagnosed autistic girls. However, having to cope in a “one-size-fits-all” world which is overwhelming, confusing and unpredictable will lead to high anxiety and low mood and a strong sense of not fitting in and feeling different.

How might autism present in girls and women?

  • Autistic females can find it difficult to maintain eye contact, read facial expressions, socialise and keep up with the ebb and flow of conversation. Often, they will put on a mask, mimicking others and ‘shape-shifting’ their personality to fit those around them. Whilst doing this, there is the constant worry about whether they are getting it right, have they said the right thing, have they responded in the right way to a friend?
  • Many girls will also experience higher or lower levels of sensitivity to one of the senses, such as sound, touch or taste. A girl may find certain noises so loud that it hurts and becomes overwhelming. Too much touch can result in sensory overload.
  • Transitions and change can be difficult to cope with. It is common for girls to experience problems, and for the symptoms of autism to emerge or be stronger following a transition from nursery to primary, from primary to secondary school and then on from school to college, work or uni.
  • These factors can lead to too much information – an overload of sensory input, information, emotions and feelings, resulting in a meltdown – crying, screaming, breaking things, head-banging, getting aggressive, swearing a lot, biting etc. Often the meltdown may be followed by a shutdown, when the girl withdraws and may need silence and darkness to help her recover.

In a girl without a diagnosis of autism, these difficulties and meltdowns mean she can be seen as weird by her peers, finds coping at school/uni/college very difficult, and poses problems for her family in managing her challenging behaviour. A diagnosis of autism provides a framework for understanding the girl’s challenges, signposts a way forward in helping her cope, and helps her family understand and support her.

If you would like to talk more about your daughter’s autism diagnosis, get some one-to-one counselling and coaching support for her, or you are worried about your undiagnosed daughter, please contact westend counselling here.

There is lots more information at a fabulous website for autism and Aspergers

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I am worried about my son’s online gambling – how can I help him?

gamblingA study of 96,000 European school students aged 15-16 years old has shown that 23% of
boys report that they have gambled online for money
and 12% report doing so frequently (2-4 times a month or more).

There is growing evidence that gambling has the same potential to become addictive as drugs.

If you are concerned about your son, here’s how you can help.

  • Talk to your child about the dangers of online gambling and share your concerns about him. Research shows that the earlier a person starts gambling, the more at risk they are of developing a gambling problem.
  • Set a good example – you are an important role model, so limit your own gambling behaviour and don’t do it in front of your children.
  • Use your internet service provider’s safety tools to block gambling sites (as well as other inappropriate online content). Do the same for any mobiles, tablets etc. Mobile devices have settings to activate parental controls. For more on internet safety for children visit the NSPCC website.
  • In addition, set clear rules about which sites your son is allowed to visit and which ones he isn’t. Track which websites your son is visiting.
  • Ensure he doesn’t have access to a credit card for payment online.
  • Keep computers in common areas.

There is some great advice for teenagers and parents at youthgambling.com and at kidshealth.org

If you have further concerns and would like to get additional support for your child

Contact your GP and ask for a referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service)

Or contact Westend Counselling to discuss how counselling and therapy can help.






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My mood has been low recently – what will help me feel better?


low moodEveryone experiences ups and downs in life. It is usual and normal to feel anxious, unhappy, stressed or depressed when things are difficult and challenging.

This is a normal part of life.

Low mood includes:

  • Worry
  • Sadness
  • Tiredness because of lack of sleep
  • Lower concentration
  • Anger/frustration
  • Low self-esteem

Low mood tends to improve after a short time, by resolving issues or problems, talking things through, taking action and getting support from those around you.

However, if low mood doesn’t pass, it may be a sign of depression.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feeling tearful
  • Feeling irritated and intolerant of others
  • Lacking motivation and interest in things
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions
  • Not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • Having thoughts about suicide or harming yourself
  • Lack of energy &/or lack of interest in sex
  • Avoiding friends
  • Changes in appetite

If you recognise many of these symptoms and they are persisting for weeks or months and impacting on your family, work, health and social life, then it is time to seek some help.

Talk – to your friends and family and let them how you are feeling.

Talk to a support agency like the Samaritans, available 24 hours/7 days a week.

Contact your GP – they will assess your depression and recommend a way forward for you.

If your employer has an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), access their support services.

Contact a private counsellor. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been shown to be effective in treating depression. Find a qualified and professional counsellor near you on the Counselling Directory.

Contact westend counselling to chat through whether CBT would be helpful for you, and to arrange an appointment.


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The Wheel of Emotion – helping you understand what you feel.

wheel of emotionUse the Wheel of Emotion to help you understand how you feel.

Start in the middle of the wheel, and pick the label that best fits how to feel and work outwards through the spokes and stop when the label makes the most sense of how you feel.

Then say that word, to yourself or out loud.

The feeling won’t disappear but nor will it overwhelm you.  You now know what you are feeling – accept this feeling and don’t judge yourself.

With this new understanding you can start to work out more rationally what you need to do to manage that feeling.





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Giving a name to your emotion can help you control how you feel.

understandingsign2011Sometimes you can feel such a mixture of physical and mental hurt that it can be overwhelming.  Finding a way out, or a way to control how you feel can be difficult, and imagining that you can feel differently, impossible.

This is where labelling your emotion can help, by helping you understand how you feel and therefore helping you to take control.

Research studies asked participants to give a label to their emotion such as “anger” or “fear”.  They found that labelling led to less activity in the part of our brain which controls our fight-or-flight response (the amygdala) and increased activity in the thinking part of the brain.

So what does that mean? The psychologists suggest that labelling takes us from an emotional state to a thinking state – “you seem to be putting the brakes on your emotional responses”. This allows us to act less impulsively and to take control of our feelings.

So, how to name our emotions?

  • If you are struggling to label how you feel, there is a great tool called the Wheel of Emotion. Start in the middle of the wheel, and pick the label that best fits how to feel and work outwards through the spokes and stop when the label makes the most sense of how you feel.
  • Then say that word, to yourself or out loud.
  • The feeling won’t disappear but nor will it overwhelm you.  You now know what you are feeling – accept this feeling and don’t judge yourself.
  • With this new understanding you can start to work out more rationally what you need to do to manage that feeling. For example, if you learn that you are feeling angry, perhaps you need to go out for a walk, talk to a friend or speak to your partner about the issue which is troubling you.

Labelling and accepting how you feel will help you manage distress in the future.


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How to get the most out of your study time.

reviseFor anyone with prelims coming up in the New Year – here’s a guide to making the most of your revision time.

  • Plan your study time

Draw up a calendar plan of what you are going to revise, when. Tie it into your exam timetable so that you are focusing on the right subject at the right time. Make sure you build in plenty of down-time too – take whole days off to enjoy Christmas and Hogmanay, and then you’ll feel fresher when it’s time to get back to the books again.

  • No cramming

Spreading your revision throughout the holiday means that there is time to do enough and do things repeatedly. This means that the information will transfer into your long-term memory where it stays committed, until you are ready to retrieve it. Cramming doesn’t work – information only gets into the short-term memory which I read is like “the party space in your head – information is there for a good time but not a long time”!

  • Test yourself

Test yourself regularly because this will let you know whether the information you’ve been learning has been remembered and you can retrieve it. There are past papers free on-line on the SQA website for Scotland and on the exam board websites for England.

  • Get some sleep

Sleep allows your brain to process the day, and therefore process the information you’ve been learning. It’s important to get enough sleep to embed this information and also to feel fresh when you start revising all over again the next day. If you are finding it hard to sleep, some tips are here.

  • …… and don’t pull an all-nighter

All-nighters don’t work! Your ability to remember and process information is very limited as you get tired. And research has shown that it can take up to 4 days for your brain to recover back to normal after being deprived of sleep.

  • Take regular breaks

Research shows that taking regular breaks rather than working continuously for hours is more effective for learning. You don’t succumb to distractions so easily and can therefore concentrate more. For a great time management tip, try working for 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break to check your phone, listen to music, grab a drink, take a walk around the house, watch Youtube. More information is here.

  • Take some time off

It’s important to do something else. Even better is taking some exercise. Exercise releases a whole bunch of hormones which can impact on learning, mood and concentration. Try anything that gets your heart pumping to feel the benefits.

  • Finally, don’t suffer alone

Get together with friends if you are struggling to understand or learn an important concept. Talk to friends, share what knowledge you have and teach each other.

Good luck!.

For anyone needing individual support with stress, revision technique or exam anxiety, contact westend counselling for one-to-one sessions.

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How to stress-proof your Christmas

baby_3143423bThe run-up to Christmas can be difficult– demands on your time and money coming from left, right and centre, tricky family relationships to navigate and expectations running high.

However, it is possible to reduce the pressure on you, before it boils over, by following these simple tips:

Attend to your relationships.

How can you minimise the impact of Christmas on your key relationships? Communicate – keep talking and be honest.

  • If there are simmering disagreements bubbling away under the surface, sort these out now.
  • Talk to your partner about what’s really bothering you – there’s no point taking the huff if it isn’t clear why!
  • Arrange to meet fractious family members and work things through now before you have to face each other over the turkey.
  • If you dread having certain members of the family round, then suggest you get together at a different time. Replace what you think you should/must do with what you would like to do.

Divide up the chores

  • Don’t be a martyr, (or a control freak), and take everything on yourself. Divide up tasks and things to do between the family. It’s amazing how much children can do, despite what they may lead you to believe!

Think about what you really need to do to enjoy Christmas

  • Do you need to buy a whole new set of crockery? Yes – really? Are you sure your usual set won’t do the job? Will your Christmas dinner be ruined if you don’t hoover under the sofa?
  • Think about what you would like Christmas to be like, and it doesn’t have to be perfect – perfect is impossible!

Don’t be tempted to blow the budget

  • Christmas is a time of financial overload which is a leading cause of stress. If the spending looks set to get out of control – stop, take stock and see where you can make changes. Most adults are happy to forego a present, and it’s ok to say “no” sometimes……

Learn to say no

  • There are lots of competing demands, requests for help and invitations over Christmas. Don’t push yourself to burn-out. It’s a holiday remember.
  • If you think one more thing will push you over the limit reply ‘thank you I’d love to, but I can’t’.

Don’t drink to excess

  • Alcohol can make everything seem worse and make you feel much worse – and eventually things will be worse. So alternate between alcoholic and soft drinks.

Build in some chill time

By the time you’ve delegated, organised things you want to do and planned the day how you would really like it to be, you will have time to put your feet up, relax and enjoy your Christmas.

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The benefits of positive emotions & how to boost your own feel-good factor.

water lillyA Professor of Social Psychology, Barbara Fredrickson studies positive emotions like love, happiness, inspiration and tranquillity. Nice job!

Professor Fredrickson has found through various research studies that feeling positive not only makes us feel good, but it helps us to build resilience and strength. This means that we can bounce back quicker from adversity when we have experienced stressful and hard times.

She also found that positive emotions help us open up to relationships, new opportunities and new possibilities.

Even in times of high anxiety, stress or depression, letting ourselves experience a positive emotion can will have some benefit.

So what are her tips for boosting the positive emotions of happiness, love, tranquillity…..?

  • Instead of a to-do list of tasks, arrange your day to include feeling positive about something.
  • Remember to be grateful for what you have.
  • Spend your money on experiences, not things.
  • Volunteer
  • Nurture your relationships
  • Spend time in nature
  • Encounter new people and places





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