Dear Amy: I am a seventh-grade guy. Lately, I have been stressing out a lot over tests.
I know that this is quite normal for middle-schoolers, but I have noticed that I get really jittery during tests.
Also, I am getting very nervous when I am assigned any homework.
How can I handle this sort of anxiety and jitters?
Amy says: You are right — these feelings are pretty normal for kids your age. I've grappled with this, myself (and still do!).
Maybe you are worried that the material is too hard or maybe you have a perfectionist streak that causes you to feel paralyzed, because you want to nail everything perfectly.
You are in a good position to learn to cope with this because you have already identified the physical feelings. Paying attention to your body and your breath will help. If you spend just 10 seconds closing your eyes and breathing in and out at the start of a test, you should be able to center and calm yourself. Do you have a "happy place"? Mentally put yourself there while you take your test.
You should also try "cognitive restructuring," which is just a way of training your brain to replace a negative thought with a positive one. So instead of thinking, "I'm terrible at writing," you think, "Sometimes this is hard for me, but I'm going to make my best effort today. I've got this!"
I think that each of us to varying degrees feels a little internal freak-out when handed a big assignment. But it helps to break down the big tasks into smaller ones. Make a list and cross off each item when you've completed it. The first item might be, "Open backpack. Take out books." You'll feel a little sense of accomplishment with each completed task. Then give yourself a major fist bump: "boom!" when you've finished the whole assignment.
Your school librarian might point you toward study tools that you would find helpful. Your school counselor can also help. And talk to your folks about this. Your mom or dad might also experience these feelings, and they can share their tricks and tips with you.
No more gifts!
Dear Amy: Every year we get together with my brother, his wife and their two adult daughters for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
A couple of years ago, I suggested discontinuing our practice of exchanging gifts. However, you would have thought I was asking for an arm from each of them. They don't want to stop the gift exchange.
This past summer I retired and would like to broach this subject once again.
None of us are in need of anything. The girls are in their early 20s and on their own.
We are not close, so it has become increasingly difficult to find suitable gifts.
For the most part, the gift exchange has turned into a gift card swap.
I am hopeful you can help me find a way to bring this up again to my brother and his family in a way that they will be able to understand and appreciate my point of view.
Amy says: This Thanksgiving, you should bring this up again: "I know I have mentioned this before, but now that I'm retired, I have decided not to give material gifts for Christmas. I just want to focus on enjoying our time together." I understand that changing the gift game genuinely throws people.
If you still feel pressured, you can ease off the material gift exchange concept by giving one "gift" to the entire family — through donating to a local cause and giving them each a card telling them so during the annual gift card swap.
If they give you gifts, your only responsibility is to accept them graciously and thank them sincerely.
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