Coping with the stress of exams

Coping with the stress of exams

How much exam stress is normal?

It’s that time of year again when mocks are being taken in preparation for the build-up of GCSEs and A levels in the summer. Here at Morency we appreciate that this can be a challenging time for many young people and we receive a lot of calls at this time of year looking for support. We have specialists within our team who are here to help. Exam time is understandably stressful and almost everyone taking exams will experience some level of stress or anxiety. Usually, this stress is within a normal range and indeed, stress is believed to be vital to ensure people work hard to meet their goals. However, sometimes stress levels can become too high and stress becomes counterproductive, some possible signs of this include:

  • Feeling unable to concentrate on revision
  • Frequent and intense psychosomatic symptoms, including headaches or stomach aches
  • Intense mood swings, periods of crying or feelings of worthlessness
  • Sleep problems including sleeping more, sleeping less or waking up during the night
  • Negative thoughts, for example, feeling as though the future is hopeless
  • Changes in eating, including eating more, eating less or eating different types of food to normal
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Habits forming or returning, for example, biting finger nails or chewing on hair
  • Substance use

What can help reduce stress during revision?

Everyone finds different events stressful and reacts to stress differently and it is also true that everyone has different ways to reduce their stress levels. However, the following are generally helpful to most people:

Talk to others

It is usually helpful to take a break from revision and speak to someone supportive. Often, we are told that it is helpful to share experiences, however, talking to friends who are sitting the same exam can actually increase stress as you may compare your revision or knowledge to theirs. Instead, you may find it helpful to speak to a family member who has limited knowledge of your revision but can offer you a kind word. If you are able to spend time laughing and forgetting revision for a while, even better!

Relax and maintain routines

The pressure to do well can make it appear as though every waking hour would be best spent revising, however, after a long period of time it is counter-productive to continue revising. It is unlikely that you will be able to learn anything new and you could become frustrated which may affect your revision long term. Instead, plan in frequent short breaks, for example 15 minutes every 30-90 minutes and then longer breaks of at least an hour, several times per day. During these periods try to engage in an activity that you find enjoyable and relaxing. This could be listening to music, exercising or playing a game. During these breaks It may be helpful to limit social media and friends who are also revising. It is equally important to maintain your sleeping and eating routines.

When might therapy be helpful for exam stress?

If the above strategies are not helping and you are still experiencing high levels of stress that are interfering with your revision, then therapy may be helpful. Therapy may be able to:

  • Help you consider the source of the pressure you feel
  • Develop self-care strategies
  • Challenge negative thoughts which interfere with your work
  • Develop good habits
  • Help you develop problem solving skills
  • Develop stress management techniques and plan how to manage stress during an exam