Flourishing at Wycombe | Stress and Anxiety: Looking after Myself and Others

Flourishing at Wycombe, Natasha Devon Talk

Here at Wycombe Abbey, we know just how difficult the past year has been for us all and how especially tough it has been for the young people in our care. That is why we invited Natasha Devon MBE to speak to our LV during their Wellbeing lesson about stress and anxiety and how they can look after both themselves and others.

Natasha is a writer and activist who tours schools, colleges, and universities throughout the world to deliver talks and conduct research on mental health, body image, gender, and social equality.

Natasha spoke to the LV on the science of stress and anxiety, why a little bit is healthy for us but too much can negatively affect both our mental and physical health. She also introduced different strategies that the pupils could implement in their own lives to manage the stress and anxiety that they feel.

One such strategy was to categorize worries. Natasha explained that when she feels overwhelmed or that she has a lot on her mind she separates her thoughts and worries on to three different Post-it notes:

  1. The things that I have direct control over.
  2. The things that I can change but need help with.
  3. The things that I have no control over.

She advised the pupils to turn the Post-it note that contains the points that they have control over into an actionable to do list, reach out for support for those things that they need help with, and tear up the list that they have no control over or talk to someone that they trust. This strategy helps the person to identify their worries; having them clearly laid out allows for a plan to be created and lets them work through each worry or to seek the support that they may need. These worries could be to do with schoolwork, friendships, body image, coping with change, managing their time or unrest at home; not all will need professional help, but some may do.

I thought that I would also share the Wellbeing Department’s top tips for dealing with assessment stress as I am aware that our UV and UVI pupils, in particular, are preparing for assessments during the Summer Term.

  1. The human brain can only concentrate for a relatively short period of time. So instead, of staring at a piece of paper for hours on end we encourage pupils to use the Pomodoro technique – to set a timer for every 25 minutes of work and to enjoy a 5-minute break before the next chunk of work or revision begins. After four Pomodoros a longer break of 30 minutes is taken.
  2. We also recommend that pupils switch focus (change subject or topic worked on) regularly as this keeps things exciting for their brains and enables more effective revision to take place.
  3. A revision timetable should be sensible and achievable. We advise that pupils break their revision day into three sessions – morning, afternoon, and evening, and have at least one of those sessions off each day. They might have a lie-in on Tuesday morning, go for a walk with a friend on Wednesday afternoon and enjoy a movie with their family on Thursday evening. This will help them to avoid revision burnout and to protect their mental health by factoring in time for rest and the things that they enjoy.
  4. Explore other ways to revise that simply is not just rewriting old notes. Recording themselves explaining a concept for physics and listening to the playback to see if they have covered all of the points needed will be far more memorable then sat at a desk reading about it. Make use of websites and apps such as Anki that allows students to create powerful and intelligent flashcards that they have with them on the go, perfect for creating moments of productive downtime – such as car journeys, waiting for a bus or whilst standing in the supermarket entrance queue.
  5. We recommend that they eat well, sleep well, and take fresh air and exercise. To never cram the morning of an assessment – the information simply does not sink in and instead to enter an assessment feeling refreshed, showered, and having had a light breakfast or lunch.
  6. Post assessment self-care: to avoid the ‘post-mortem’ that always takes place after an assessment in which they dissect and compare what answers they have put to each question. It leaves pupils feeling anxious or worried if they have written something different to others and there is nothing that can be done to change any answers at this point. Instead, I suggest to them that they have a pair of headphones close by, pop them in, listen to their favourite song and go for a walk around our School site to refresh them for the assessments that still lie ahead.

I hope this helps. One of the best things that can be done in helping pupils to manage their stress and anxiety is to ensure that they have a support network that surrounds them; one that they feel comfortable talking to and asking for advice from. This network could include parents, Housemistress, Tutor, siblings, close friends, other trusted adults, and the help of counsellors such as Claire Maddock in School.

All young people will experience stress and anxiety from time to time. If you are worried about your daughter, please do get in touch with their Housemistress and we can work together in getting them the help that they may need.

Miss Sophie Blunt
Head of Wellbeing and Housemistress of Wendover House