For five years now, I have been invited into Okehampton College in Devon to work with groups of students on their exam stress. Four or five times throughout the school year I go in to teach the young adults stress relief techniques. The primary aim is to help them to cope with the exams.
Usually I am given groups of up to 8 students to work with. Sometimes it has been more, which is not ideal but we manage. Six or less is a better number. These students are usually put forward by a teacher or a parent or have asked to join my group.
I start with specific students in specific groups, but each visit I can have new students appear, or they swap groups. This can be hard to deal with, because I always start with an introduction on stress and tapping in the first session. Often therefore I have to repeat some of this, but actually I think this can be beneficial for the young people. It can really help them start to recognise where their symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety, etc. come from.
The number of students in each group varies each visit, because they can choose whether to come along or not. But this can also be a positive. By the last session, which normally takes place just before the exams, I can have a group of just four students. These are the ones who really want to come and get the most out of the session. I can also have a one-to-one session, and then we can really get to work on the issues going on in their life.
“You are going to think this is weird!”
This is the phrase I use a lot during the first session to describe tapping. I then add it into the first few rounds of tapping that we do, with a big smile on my face.
I start by introducing myself, then a brief description of what we are going to cover. Usually we begin each session with a breathing technique to help them (and me) calm down and relax. I sometimes end the session with a guided relaxation with gentle music. In the later sessions this depends on whether we have time after the tapping, but they love it when we do.
I then go on to describe how stress affects the body, and in particular for their exams and revision. Next I describe tapping... You can imagine the looks, I am sure! But I just joke about it and ask them to be open to trying. Because I have now been going there for a number of years, they have heard about this “weird tapping lady” from previous students.
You’re the Tapping Lady
is how the receptionists greet me each year now!
Getting to the Tapping
The first tapping round is on the students' stress/worry/anxiety about their exams. I start with this global approach, but after a round or two I ask about what specifically is coming into their minds. This can range from the pressure of parents, to just standing in the queue outside the hall waiting for the exam to start.
I then ask them about where they feel the emotion in their body, what shape and colour (now imagine the looks!). I ask each person the questions and try to choose the one who is likely to be more open to it. If I get a positive response from them, the others are more open and think about it seriously. I then try to add each one’s bodily responses and reasons into the next few rounds of tapping (quite a task sometimes - and a long round of tapping - but it works).
Over the rounds of tapping I add in things I have heard from students over the years;
- Revision- not being able to do it; it’s too overwhelming; there is so much, etc,
- The exam hall
- Pressure from the teachers/parents/ peers/themselves
- The fear of moving on after the exams
- Not getting the grades they need
- Specific subjects - issues with particular teachers. During later sessions they feel comfortable enough to name the teachers and we work with that.
The truth behind the exam stress
As we all know, there is always a link to something else that creates the anxiety, stress, panic attack, etc. When I have bigger groups, I explain how tapping can help with all different emotions, and how they might be able to apply it to them. I use the SUDS scale with the students on their “exam stress”. With nearly every single student that attends, they get stuck at 5 or above and it doesn’t come down.
This makes them look at me with the “this doesn’t work” look, but I ask them what else they have going on in their lives. There is always something else in the background, usually something pretty major. It’s amazing how over the sessions we have they open up about what the events are going on. It then gives the other students the permission to open up about their “stuff.”
The days I end up tapping
I have had some really challenging sessions. This can be when teachers have picked students with issues that aren’t really presenting themselves as exam stress. One that sticks in my mind is a student who had gender identity problems, and therefore behaviour challenges. The young people can’t always deal with the fact that we are going to talk about emotions and start to open them up in public. I agree with them on this. They need to have one-to-one sessions specifically catering to their issue.
They can then start to question me in an aggressive manner, and I have even had them tell me it’s wasting time in the session. I finish those sessions and tap on myself. These students very rarely come back to another session, and I am pleased - because it’s not the right place for them.
Learning the lessons and moving forward
I now always get a brief background of each student’s presenting issues, and any problems going on in the rest of their lives. There have been young adults in the group, where I find out after the session that one of their parents has died recently, or they have experienced another equivalent trauma.
I always check with the students before they leave the sessions how they are feeling - though I know they don’t always tell me the truth. I also discuss any concerns I have about students with the teacher I work with there. Guidelines in the UK about child protection are very clear and firm. It is so important to adhere to these, particularly in schools and colleges.
The amazing days
Yes, I have had challenging days, but I have had so many more amazing days. Where the child (because basically that is what they are) finishes a round of tapping with this look of disbelief and a fabulous smile that makes my heart melt. Days like that fill me with bliss, and I feel so blessed that I am lucky enough to have the opportunities to work with these lovely young people.
Tracey is an Advanced Accredited Practitioner from Devon, UK. She specialises in working with children, and in the areas of Anxiety and Spirituality.