FOR thousands of school children the Easter holidays are the last big break from school before the start of exam season. Primary school children have SATS coming up, whilst teenagers are working towards GCSEs and A-levels.

The heavy focus on exams places a great deal of stress on youngsters, and many children experience symptoms of anxiety, headaches, tummy aches, changes in bowel habits and skin breakouts. Changes in mood are also common – though these may not be so easily discernible if you already have a hormonally raging teenager! Having said that, you may find your teen becomes more withdrawn or easily upset than normal, as the exam pressures build up.

To help deal with the symptoms of stress look at including foods rich in certain nutrients that support energy levels, memory, concentration, and nerves.

Magnesium is known as our ‘anti stress’ mineral as it plays key roles in energy production and relaxing the nervous system. Green vegetables are a major source: including broccoli, kale, spinach, peas, and cabbage regularly will help support magnesium levels. Nuts are another good source, particularly cashew nuts. Snacking on nuts and raisins is a great idea when revising for exams!

If your child or teenager enjoys soaking in a hot bath, add one or two cups of Epsom salts to the bathwater. The salts are a rich source of magnesium, which is absorbed through the skin.

The B-vitamins work closely with magnesium in the body, and are vital for dealing with stress and supporting memory and concentration. Unfortunately, the refined processed foods favoured by many teenagers are low in B-vitamins, so do encourage wholegrains and unprocessed foods wherever possible. Brown rice for example has excellent levels of B-vitamins, whilst white rice is much lower due to the loss of the outer husk, where most of the vitamins reside.

Wholegrain bread, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, avocados, meat, and poultry are other good B-vitamin foods so there are plenty to choose from.

A gentle yet effective herbal remedy for managing exam stress is Avena Sativa or oat seed. Oats are naturally rich in B-vitamins and this remedy has a soothing effect on frayed nerves. Peppermint oil and chamomile tea may also be helpful, especially for calming upset stomachs on exam day.

An additional problem at exam time is hayfever. Coughs, sneezes, sore itchy eyes, and runny noses can really detract from exam performance. Both teenagers and younger children can safely take homoeopathic remedies for hayfever: these are non-drowsy, fast acting and easy to take. Healthstores stock general hayfever formulas, or for a specific remedy seek the advice of a registered Homoeopath.

Older children may be able to use certain herbal remedies too: again, these have the advantage of being non-drowsy, so won’t interfere with exam performance. Vitamin C is a helpful nutrient for supporting the immune system and processing histamine – kids’ versions of vitamin C can be taken throughout the hayfever season to help manage symptoms.

- Sally Duffin is a nutritional therapist and writer based in Holgate, York.