How to manage stress during exam season

A bit of stress is perfectly normal during exam season. It can trigger your ‘fight or flight response’, giving you an extra push so you perform at your best. But when your stress becomes unrelenting, where you’re constantly anxious without any sign of relief, this isn’t something to ignore.

Priory Group’s Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg has outlined several steps that you can introduce during your revision routine so that you can manage your stress levels and prevent them from affecting your health and wellbeing.

Don’t ignore the symptoms

Your body will often signal to you when you are stressed. Are you getting more headaches than usual? Do you have an upset stomach? Is your heart beating faster than usual? Are you having trouble sleeping? Don’t ignore these symptoms. By taking the time to identify and address the early signs of stress, you can avoid the possibility of it snowballing into burnout.

Check in with your body throughout the day to examine for the first warning signs of stress. You could even set a morning and afternoon alarm so that you remember. Has your leg been jiggling as you work? Has your heart or head been racing, making it difficult for you to concentrate? If so, take a much-deserved break away from your revision to ease the tension you feel.

Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks

Revision ‘lockdown’ may feel like the right thing to do as you want to give your exams your undivided attention. While you may be doing this with the best of intentions, it can backfire.

Take time to relax and do the things you enjoy to give your brain time to rest and digest information. It can also give you an opportunity to distance yourself from exam stress, helping to prevent it from building to something unmanageable.

You can still see your friends

Your revision may feel like a solo battle and something that you’ve got to work at alone. But don’t be afraid to revise with your peers. Not only can this be an effective study technique, but it also means that you have access to emotional support, where you have people to talk to and to give you advice, as well as letting off steam in between revision sessions.

Try not to focus on the worst case scenario

We understand that this may feel easier said than done, but believing in the worst case scenario can cause your stress to escalate. It can even act as a self-fulfilling prophecy, where how you believe influences how you act.

To stop you automatically gravitating to the worst possible thing that could happen, answer the following questions at the end of every day:

• What moments left you feeling stressed today?

• What did you think at the time?

• What evidence is there against this negative thought?

• What will happen if you continue to think this way?

• What’s a healthier way of thinking about the situation?

• What action plan or affirmation can you have in place for the next time you feel like this? Could you use activities to distract you from negative thoughts?

Remember negative thinking will not change what happens but will impact on your mood in a detrimental way and take up time where you could be doing something more productive.

Taking the time to do this activity at the end of a day can help you to recognise what causes you to become stressed. It can also help you to determine what steps you need to put in place for the future to prevent stressful moments from affecting your positivity and productivity.

Get into a good sleep routine

We understand that trying to sleep during exam season can be difficult due to stress and pre-exam nerves. However, try your hardest to establish a good routine so you get the best sleep you possibly can every night. Try to fall asleep and wake up at similar times every day, as this can help with your learning and memory. If you are struggling to sleep, try not to worry about it but reassure yourself it is good to be getting rest in bed anyway. Make sure your bed is a relaxing space, free from revision clutter and screens. Don’t be tempted to take naps in the day, or drink caffeine in the hours before bedtime. Also try to get 20 minutes of exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime.

If you feel that your stress is getting worse or doesn’t appear to be improving, it is important to seek help. You can talk to your parents and organise to see your GP. You can also contact a supportive charity such as ChildLine or Samaritans who will be able to talk via the telephone or web chat. It is important to remember that you are not alone and that there is plenty of support available that can help with the stresses that you are dealing with.