Coping with exam pressure

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Health Assured team

26 April 2021

Exam season is here—indeed for some students, it never really goes away. Exams are a necessary part of most studies, as a demonstration of understanding. But they can be intensely stressful... 

Student life shouldn’t really be about stress, should it? But it is, especially when exams are looming. Deadlines for essays and dissertations are just as scary, but at least the work is spread out over a long period—exams are single events, which lurk in your calendar like a stressful ambush. 

There are ways to combat the stress of upcoming exams, though, keeping yourself mentally fit, resilient and ready to smash the tasks ahead: 

Understand when you’re becoming stressed 

Everyone responds to stress in different ways. Some people thrive on it, in fact—but they’re probably not reading this advice.  

Maybe you find yourself shutting off from your friends, becoming emotionally irrational. Maybe you fidget, or put off revising until the last minute. Some people grind their teeth, others throw themselves into exercise—classic avoidance. 

Think about how you respond to stress, and what you find yourself doing as a coping mechanism. Talk to friends, and ask if they notice anything different about you when exams are in the pipeline. You’re looking to build up a picture of your stress responses, so you can recognise them and deal with them before they take hold. 

Breathing techniques 

Stress causes tension. It’s a physical response, the ‘fight or flight’ response you’ve probably heard of. That tension affects your breathing, making it rapid and shallow—and when this happens, you reduce the oxygen in your bloodstream. 

In turn, this makes your brain work harder on focus, and reduces your ability to make decisions. This is a huge anxiety trigger, and can lead to panic attacks. 

Learning to breathe clearly and deeply is a boon. Focusing on taking big, deep breaths, holding them, and releasing in a single, fluid motion will get the blood pumping (with lots of oxygen!) and help clear some of that anxiety. 

Mindfulness 

Taking a little time out to be calm, collected and present in the moment is a great way to cope with pressure. Mindfulness is used in many different situations—it’s not quite meditation, but it’s similar. Just spend a minute thinking about something you love, and concentrate on how it makes you feel. 

You could think, for example, about: 

  • The beach 
  • Your favourite TV show 
  • Being with friends 
  • A meal that you enjoy 
  • Anything that helps you feel calm 

Keep those thoughts in your mind for a good, solid minute. Concentrate on the sensations you associate with them. After a while, you’ll find that anxiety and stress just melts away. 

Positivity 

This is a simple one—don’t doubt yourself! It’s all too easy to become wracked with doubt when exams are on the horizon. And self-doubt is a serious stressor.  

Tell yourself you can do it. Believe that you can pass, and with flying colours at that. Self-belief is a powerful tool. 

Sleep 

You probably don’t get enough sleep. Hardly anyone does, really—good quality sleep is a hard resource to find.  

Set up a sleep regime, and stick to it. This might seem a bit counterintuitive—you’ll possibly worry about having fewer hours in which to study—but sleeping properly means you’ll be able to use the time you have in order to study well. It’s about quality of study time. And sleeping properly means you’ll hit the library refreshed, meaning better quality time spent there, meaning less stress. It’s like a vicious circle, except this time the circle is nice! 

If you would like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on:  

UK: 0844 892 2493 

ROI: 01 886 0324 

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