Keep it calm during exam time

The end of the year is synonymous with exam time. Whether a child is in grade 4 or in grade 12, exam stress is very real and very common. Children are under great pressure to perform and do well – these expectations placed on them lead to extra stress.

All learning and thinking skills are functions of the cerebral cortex, our thinking brain. Our thinking brain functions as the CEO of the brain, and it is where all learning, problem-solving, abstract thinking and memory recall happens. The ability of the thinking brain to function adequately is dependent on the adequate function of the sensory and emotional parts of the brain. If the sensory brain is overwhelmed and stressed, one has great difficulty maintaining emotions and anxiety takes over. When the sensory brain is overwhelmed, the ability to think in a rational and clear way is compromised.

The ability to self-regulate and stay calm is vital to being able to cope with the pressures of exams. The following strategies will go a long way to helping the children in our lives cope with exam stress:

  • When studying, take a break every 30 – 45 minutes. Breaks must be taken away from the desk.
  • Encourage your child to take a movement break, or to maintain regular sport participation.
  • Maintain a healthy eating plan. Provide healthy snacks during studying periods such as nuts, carrots, apples, popcorn and pretzels. Crunchy snacks will provide alerting sensory input while the child sits at the desk to study.
  • Avoid sugary eats and drinks.
  • Encourage your child to keep a bottle of cool/cold water at the desk.
  • Allow your child to decide where and how he or she works best – encourage them to keep their working area clutter-free.
  • Ensure that there is enough natural light in the room.
  • Allow for them to make the sensory accommodations that they need to stay focused and alert, e.g. listening to music or wearing headphones to block out distracting sounds and having fidget tools to help focus.
  • Maintain a healthy and regular sleeping pattern. Get up and go to sleep at regular times. A minimum of 8 hours of sleep is recommended in order to give the brain and body time to rest. Sleeping is when the brain consolidates all the information that has been learned.

Let’s make exam time easier for our children, and let’s help them realise just how capable and resilient they are.


Get to know the sensory strategies to keep your mind calm by completing your Sensory Matrix™.

Sensory guidelines to choosing your 2023 diary

Last week I came to the shocking realisation that I already need a diary for 2023.  After a few minutes of contemplating how time flies, I made a plan to go to the mall after work.  I decided to visit the stationary store to take a look at their options for a 2019 diary.  I soon realised that the choices were overwhelming, prices ranging from R90 – R590, sizes from “fit in your pocket” to “you need a backpack for this one”, different colours, shapes, formats… I felt overwhelmed just by looking at the rack!

This is when I realised my sensory assess could help me to make a choice.  I am a “root” – this means I have low sensory thresholds and too much information overwhelms me  (but I think you noticed that from above!).  I was very grateful to know my own sensory assess well enough to make sense of what was happening in trying to choose a diary.  So I came up with the following guidelines on how to choose the best diary for yourself for 2019:

Diary covers come in all colours and patterns.  Some are plain with limited text, others are a mixture of beautiful patterns and colours on the front and back, and you even get ones with specific themes like “Little Prince” or “Disney” on them.  I soon realised it is very important to take your visual threshold into account – no matter how much you may like a certain pattern or theme, you need to remember that you will most likely use this diary EVERY DAY for the next year.

  • If you are easily overwhelmed by visual stimuli, like me, you might opt for something with an organised pattern, or a clear colour with limited print on the front.
  • If you love bright colours and wild shapes, you need to remember that you also most likely enjoy nuance and change and that you might grow bored if you choose something too bold.

The best is to pick up the diary, spend some time looking at the cover, and feel what happens in your body.  If you feel excited and ready for the year when you look at the cover, then YES!  If you feel overwhelmed and like there is just ‘too much to do’ when you look at the cover, then maybe another colour and pattern will suit you better.

When looking at the inside of a diary, we also want to take our visual threshold into account.

  • For myself, due to my low threshold, I need a diary that has only one day on a page and the times are clearly marked.  If there is more than one day on a page, the information appears ‘too much’ and I struggle to make sense of what needs to happen in the day.  I also like a diary that has a year planner at the front so I can see everything that needs to happen laid out in one place.
  • If you have a high visual threshold, you might enjoy a format of having more than one day on a page, or even having pictures, motivational quotes and extra information on your page.

Your preference has nothing to do with how busy you are or your cognitive capacity to do a lot.  It simply relates to how much visual information your brain can process at a time.  By choosing the best option, you will free your brain up to do more important work in the day, rather than spend valuable energy trying to decipher your diary. ‘

I soon realised that it’s very important to pick up a diary.  If like me, your diary goes with you to work, to clients and home again it means you have to carry it around all day so you might want to opt for a lighter diary.  The weight is dependent on your body’s ability to carry around additional weight.

  • If it is too heavy, you will become irritated, annoyed and create tension in your shoulders and neck.
  • If you aren’t bothered by extra weight, or you plan not to carry your diary around, you can opt for a bigger size like an A4 or a heavier diary.

It is important to pick up the diary and perhaps even walk around with it a bit.  Are you aware of the weight?  Maybe something lighter will do.  If you are NOT aware of the extra weight, then this might be the one for you!

This last tip I included because choosing a diary seems like very serious business indeed.  But this is just a quick reminder to have fun!  Choosing a diary needs to get you excited for the year ahead, with all the new adventures it might bring!

Tell us how you chose your diary and what you learned about yourself in the process.  We would love to hear from you!

Want to find out more about your own sensory thresholds and what specific sensory tips and tools would work for you? Click here to do our free Sensory Quiz™ for a short summary of your assessment.  For a comprehensive 26-page report, buy the Sensory Matrix™ online.  You will be amazed at the results!

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