Coping with exam stress

Stressing out about exams and deadlines is part of being a student. Scratch that… it’s the definition of being a student. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s important to manage your stress about schoolwork so that you don’t end up getting overwhelmed. The Mix talks you through some tips for coping with exam stress.

A young woman has her hands on her face. She is dealing with exam stress. This is a wide-angle image.

What causes exam stress?

There are loads of factors that lead to exam period stress. Having said that, the usual suspects are:

  • Pressure from parents and relatives to do well.
  • The need to get high grades so that you can stay on track for your dream job.
  • Wanting to keep your options open because you have no clue what you want to do next.
  • Trying to have control over SOMETHING in your life because everything around you is changing, e.g. going to a new uni, moving schools.

These fears and concerns are completely natural. Honestly, your mates are probably feeling exactly the same, even if they never really talk about it. Problem is, sometimes those feelings seem to be too big for you to handle. But we promise, there are things you can do to help.

What is stress?

Stress is the reaction people have to excessive demands or pressures. That’s why it’s very common to feel stressed around exam season. You might feel there’s a huge amount of pressure to do well, or anxious you can’t fit all the revision in. The build-up to results day can also leave you feeling overwhelmed and run down. In either of these situations, it’s worth reading our guide to understanding and coping with stress for some pointers on how to handle it.

Not only does stress due to exams mess with your head but in extreme cases it can seriously affect your physical health. For example, stressed out people have higher blood pressure. They’re also prone to heart disease, colitis (inflammation of the bowels), thyroid disorders, and ulcers.

Before you start stressing about the negative impacts of stress, we should flag that these aren’t run-of-the-mill responses to stress. In fact, it’s extremely rare for stress to get so far out of control; especially if you deal with it when the first symptoms appear.

What are the symptoms of stress due to exams?

If you’re suffering from exam-related stress, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Constant fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Aches and pains for no apparent reason
  • Poor appetite
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness

Everyone has bad days, but if you’ve noticed three or more of the above symptoms popping up frequently over a couple of weeks you may need to do something about your stress levels. That being said, you should always visit your doctor (GP) first to rule out other possible reasons for the symptoms, such as depression. Plus, if it turns out that you’re stressed, your GP might still be able to advise you.

What to do when you’re stressed for your exams?

Spending late-nights googling, ‘What to do when you’re stressed for your exams?” Well, look no further because we have the answers right here. 

On top of booking that doctors appointment, you should also try some of the following exam stress relief activities:

  • Make time for yourself away from your studies to wind down. For lots of people this might be something like relaxing in a warm bubble bath, listening to soothing music and shutting out the world for a while. But honestly, you just have to do whatever else floats your boat, like sailing a boat for instance.
  • Take time for your mind and body to relax. Close your eyes and take deep breaths, chat with friends, try some breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. Even just watching a bit of your fave TV show can help you switch your brain off for a moment.
  • Take regular breaks from revision to avoid burnout.
  • Take time to exercise. Yes, it may be difficult at first but regular and frequent exercise has been scientifically proven to be a good stress reducer.
  • We’re gonna be your mum for a minute. You have to make sure you’re eating well. Remember, skipping meals will deplete your energy and leave you feeling drained.
  • Talk to your family and friends. Making time to see your mates will help you unwind and let you offload any problems.
  • Try not to stay up too late revising. It might be tempting to cram late at night when you’ve got an exam the next day, but it’s actually counterproductive. Instead, try a good night’s sleep (and a regular sleep pattern) since that’ll help keep your mind fresh.

What exam stress relief activities work best for you? Let us know on our discussion boards.

More support with exam stress

Check out our revision tips article here, or get in touch with our team who are there to listen and support you on any issue.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. Search their website for information, research, and to see how you could get involved.
  • The Mix's Stresshead tool was designed by young people to help relax and distract you when it all gets too much. It also has great stress-relief advice.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


exams| stress

By Holly Turner

Updated on 11-Apr-2022