How to Deal with Exam Stress

A young woman studying with books scattered across a wooden table

Tossing and turning at night? Struggling to keep any food down? Can’t concentrate?

Exam stress can take a big toll on both your physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s affecting a greater number of students at alarming rates. In fact, a study by youth service ReachOut revealed that 65.1% of people aged between 14 and 25 experienced worrying levels of exam stress in 2018.

While some students are able to pass through studying and their exams without breaking a sweat, there are others who find their hearts racing and hands shaking throughout their student life.

So, are you looking for ways squash the anxiety and stride through your exam worry-free?

Here’s how to deal with exam stress.

1. Eat a Healthy Diet

Turning to chocolate and crisps might seem like the best coping mechanism at times of anxiety, but these unhealthy foods will just cause burnout and a worse mood than you were in before.

Stick to slow-burning carbs, less caffeine and more water. Stock up on vitamin C for energy boosts and drink calming teas like peppermint or green tea.

Remember to reduce that sugar intake. The more sugar you eat, the more stressed you’ll feel. Instead of milk chocolate, consider eating dark chocolate – according to WebMD, it reduces stress hormone levels!

2. Get Enough Sleep

Nothing feels worse than sweaty palms and droopy eyes.

During exam period, it’s critical that you get enough sleep. Indeed, sleep deprivation can decrease energy levels, make you irritable and diminish your concentration.

Get at least eight to nine hours of sleep every night, and you’ll find your focus and anxiety levels dropping.

Meanwhile, it’s been proven that sleep helps with the consolidation of memory, which means you have better chances of learning and storing information while studying!

3. Exercise Regularly

Exercise is a superb way of releasing stress. The more physical activity you do during exam season, the more positive and energised you’ll feel. This is because you release endorphins – brain chemicals that act as natural painkillers.

Whether it’s a 30-minute run or cycle, being on the move has great benefits for your mental wellbeing.

Add a few exercises to your stress management plan, and you’ll foster greater relaxation and productivity when burying yourself in those textbooks.

4. Try Breathing Techniques

When you're feeling overwhelmed during a study session, take a few minutes to practise some breathing exercises. As you turn your attention away from exams and instead focus on controlling and regulating your breathing, you can relax and gain a clear state of mind.

Here’s a popular breathing technique to try next time the stress gets the best of you:

  1. Lie on your back or sit in a chair in an upright position.
  2. Breathe in through your nose and feel your belly fill with air.
  3. Breathe out through your nose.
  4. Feel your belly rise as you breathe in and fall when you breathe out.
  5. Repeat three times.

5. Study with Friends

The more time you spend alone in that bedroom revising, the more overthinking and pondering you’re going to do. If possible, dedicate a few hours a week to studying with friends. Remember: they’re going through exam stress, too!

Whether it’s quizzing each other, sharing notes or discussing potential exam questions, studying with friends can help build your confidence and quit overthinking. In fact, if you’re managing your time correctly, you can set time aside for a fun coffee or shopping break!

6. Learn Time Management

Speaking of time, it's extremely essential that you learn time management techniques when studying for your finals.

If you’ve got more than one test coming up, or if you’re working and studying at the same time, it can get overwhelming trying to fit everything in. But if you learn how to accurately manage your time, you can be on the way to becoming a successful student who’s organised, focused and stress-free.

Try these tips to lower levels of exam-related stress:

  • set different times of the day to study for each exam
  • take breaks every 40–50 minutes
  • complete homework and assignments one or two days before the deadline
  • allocate ‘study time’ and stick by it as though it’s a fixed appointment
  • know when it’s time for revision and leisure – don't combine the two.

7. Believe in Yourself

A lot of stress and anxiety comes from doubting yourself and worrying if you’ll fail or whether you’ll remember a particular theory you’re studying.

Negative thoughts lead to anxiety and, sometimes, negative outcomes. All it takes is changing your mindset. Tell yourself ‘Yes, I can’, and inject some positivity into your train of thoughts.

Believe you can do it, stay optimistic when solving those equations, and you might just bag yourself that well-deserved A+.

8. Release Your Emotions

Keeping things bottled up isn’t the best way to overcome feelings of stress. If you’re worried about that literature exam or anxious that your grades might disappoint your parents, for example, try to release those thoughts.

Whether it’s shouting from the rooftops, talking to a friend or family member, or writing down your thoughts, this will help you release all feelings of anxiety.

Don’t feel ashamed – remember: your friends are going through the same thing and your parents have been there, done that. Letting out your emotions (and even letting those tears flow) can give you a great sense of stress relief.

9. Take Regular Breaks

Exam period might feel like your social life has been stripped away, and you probably won’t have time for hobbies.

Although this is partly true (don’t lose focus!), it’s still important that you take regular breaks from the monotonous routine of studying. Meet friends for an hour or two, watch your favourite TV show or go for some shopping therapy. Take time away from boring books by going for walks and enjoying the outside world – in fact, according to Benenden Health, fresh air can help relieve stress and anxiety!

When it will be time to return to revising, you’ll be in a better mood and probably feel more productive.

10. Get Off Your Phone

When studying gets boring (when is it ever not boring, right?), it’s easy to turn to social media or online conversations with friends. But like we said earlier, it’s important that you set time aside for revising and leisure. Don’t let any distractions interfere with your flow.

Believe it or no,t but increased mobile usage has proven to increase stress and have a negative impact on mental health. For this reason, it’s important that you ignore notifications, put your phone on silent and try to dedicate your social media scrolling to before or after your studying session.

11. Enjoy Some Music

Some people enjoy studying with music – it actually has its many benefits!

Ambient, classical music can help you deal with stress by relaxing your mood and making you more productive. In fact, there are playlists on Spotify created especially for studying sessions!

During your well-deserved breaks, you can even consider having a good sing or dance. These activities are bound to release tension and elevate your mood. Like exercise, singing releases endorphins!

12. Don’t Multitask

You might think you’re managing your time efficiently by multitasking during your studying, but you’re actually increasing stress levels. Multitasking is said to increase heart rate and blood pressure, which of course heightens anxiety.

When you’re suffering from exam stress, avoid doing too many things at once. Manage your time, separate hours for different exams and know when it’s time to stop. A great tip is to start your day by listing all your to-do tasks, allocate times for them and stick by your strict routine without going into overdrive.

Whether it’s taking a hard-earned break or releasing negative energy by exercising, there are indeed several useful studying tips to beat exam stress.

What ways have you diminished anxiety before an exam? Are there any other methods we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments below.