Exam Stress - student

10 Exam Stress-Busting Tips for students and parents

Exam stress or anxiety is experienced by many children as they worry about upcoming exams, whether they will do well, according to their own or others expectations and what happens next.

Children may not talk about feeling ‘stressed’ but may show signs of it by excessively worrying, having difficulties sleeping, being more irritable, eating too much or too little, having loss of pleasure and motivation, feeling tense, having headaches or stomach pains and feeling low and tearfulness.

How to deal with exam stress and anxiety

Exam stress or anxiety is a normal reaction to the situation and once exams finish stress levels will reduce. To cope with exam stress here are some helpful tips.

1. Talk to others

Whilst it’s not always easy to, people often say that when they talk to others this enables them to gain perspective on situations, get good advice or sometimes helps to just offload. Try and pick the right person, a friend, teacher or parent who you think will be sympathetic and will listen to you. Choose a good time to try to talk to them, preferably not when they are busy. Send them a text first, if this helps to break the ice and start the conversation.

2. Manage worries

Often when we are anxious our worries will include catastrophic thinking, were we assume that the worse will happen. I.e. I will fail all of my exams, not get into college and my life will be ruined forever. Try to learn to get better at spotting when you are worrying and make a decision not to go there, because it only makes you more anxious.Try and refocus on what you were or should be doing.

Another technique might be to ask yourself ‘Do I have any actual evidence that my fear will or has come true, or is this just a worry’? Remember that prior to the exam you haven’t taken it yet and after the exam there’s nothing you can do about it now, so let worries go. If worries feel difficult to manage on your own try and talk to someone who can help.

3. Nutrition

When we are stressed it is important to take care of ourselves, this includes what we eat and drink.  Try and keep you blood sugar levels steady and drink plenty of water. Try not to skip meals and avoid very high fat, caffeine and sugary foods and drinks as these tend to make us feel nervy and on edge. Perhaps have some healthy snacks to hand as you revise, such as nuts or fruit.

4. Sleep

Sleep is crucial to how we think and perform in the day and affects out concentration. Try and keep to a regular routine of getting up and going to bed. Most teenagers sleep for 8-10 hours per night. Don’t have your bedroom too hot, ideally around 18.5C as this helps us to sleep. Make sure that you have a wind down time before going to bed, to allow your brain to switch off. Perhaps watch TV, read a book, speak with a friend, or do some relaxation. Avoid using computers, tablets, game consoles and your Smartphone in the hour before you go to bed, as the blue light from the screens tells our brains that it is daytime and to stay awake. The occasional night of poor sleep is to be expected, but if poor sleep becomes a problem then seek help.

5. Exercise

Exercise is a great stress-buster and boosts energy levels. Pick something you like, maybe with friends and make time for it.

6. Practice a breathing exercise

There are many techniques to choose from but a simple technique is to take a deep breath in then allow yourself to breath out in your own time. As you breathe out tell yourself, in your head, the word relax or smooth. Repeat this phrase every time you breathe out, allowing yourself to notice the in and the out breath. Carry on for as long as you like.  If your mind wanders that’s ok, that’s what minds do and just bring yourself back to the out breathe. Try and practice this once a day for at least 5 minutes.

7. Have good study skills

Find a good place to do your studying ideally somewhere that is quiet and where you feel calm. Get organised, have all your books to hand and draw up a study plan. Remember to plan in short breaks, as Psychologists say that our concentration deteriorates after 45 minutes. If topics seem overwhelming break them down into manageable chunks and vary topics to stop you from getting bored. Talk to teachers about exam techniques and plan for what you need to take with you on the exam day. Don’t forget to ask for help if you need advice or feel overwhelmed.

8. Time out from studying 

Devise a study plan that allows you time away from studying, whether it be for meal breaks, exercising, relaxing and making time to see friends or family. Enjoy this time you deserve it.

9. Seek help if you need it

If you feel that anxiety and low mood is so severe that it is interferes with your ability to cope then don’t delay in talking to someone. Talk to your parents, teachers and go and see your GP. Your GP might recommend that you see a therapist who can help you to manage your stress levels more effectively.  You could also talk to ChildLine in confidence by ringing them on 0800 1111

10. A word for parents

Exam time can be a challenging time for your child and may impact on family life overall so take this into consideration. Try to listen to your child and give support and avoid criticism. Try and be reassuring and positive and let them know that if they fail their exams it isn’t the end of the world and that you will support them. Have an interest in what they are doing and ask them if they want any help. Ask them how their exams went and help them to see the positives and plan for the next one. Perhaps try and give them some slack on chores and try and build treats into the revision timetable and rewards for when the exams are over.

Some useful resources: the ChildLine website offers a wealth of useful information on subjects for young people, including exam stress beat exam stress.pdf

Also have a look at Smiling Minds, the not for profit organisation that looks to bring mindfulness to all. Download their free app    

I hope that you have found this blog helpful. I have a vested interest in this blog as my child is in the thick of GCSE revision so I have found it personally helpful to write it.

If you are struggling with exam stress, anxiety and depression, aged 15 or over and want to seek therapy then please have a look at our website at and contact us.

If you find this blog useful then please like and share it with your friends.

Wishing you good mental health

Michelle  Webster


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Time to put our Heads Together for #MHAW17

The launch of Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May) and the success of the recent ‘Heads Together’ campaign have inspired me to launch my own blog as part of my business at Feel Well Therapy.

Although I gain great satisfaction from working with patients, I often feel the need to express my opinions on, and support for, a range of issues related to mental health and psychotherapy and a blog seemed to be the ideal way to do so. I am also interested in hearing the opinions of colleagues, clients and organisations – what better way to get the conversation started?!

The Mental Health Foundation is a charity that I admire greatly. They provide outstanding support for patients and mental health practitioners alike. I have been inspired by their new campaign, “Surviving or Thriving?” for Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW17) and have been reflecting on what it means to survive or thrive?

During my clinical work, I treat many clients that have survived traumatic events in their lives, such as a road traffic accidents, past abuse or the bereavement of loved ones. Equally I see many clients who talk about struggling with day-to-day life who present with stress, anxiety disorders or depression. Whilst there are many ways that we might learn to thrive in life, for some people this process is achieved with the help of therapy.

Patients often talk about the transition from surviving to thriving when they discuss how they have gained in confidence, how they have learnt to feel more in control of their life rather than being controlled by life, and how they feel that they can move on from difficult issues, or have learnt new skills to cope with challenges. For me, thriving is all of the above, but also about helping patients to live lives that are meaningful to them where individuals learn to value and take steps to achieve positive mental health for themselves.

If like me you would like to follow the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign, then check out their activities here.

Following on from this, the charity also talks about thriving in the context of needing to understand the drivers of poor mental health in society. Stigma is a big factor within this. In the 22 years that I have worked in mental health services, I cannot remember a time that mental health issues has been more in the news in a positive way. Long may this continue!

Destigmatising mental illness is essential to promoting mental wellbeing for all. Princes William and Harry, along with the support of the Duchess of Cambridge, have managed to do this humbly but effectively with their latest ‘Heads Together’ campaign. By revealing the obstacles that they have had to overcome – and the ways in which they overcame – the Royals have proved to be inspirational figureheads for us all, in particular the millennial generation.

So in summary, as we start Mental Health Awareness Week let’s hope that both individuals, clinicians, charities, politicians and society as a whole see this as their opportunity to seize the day, spread the word and talk about mental health, ensuring that future generations are indeed thriving, not just surviving.

In my next blog, I want to consider how teenagers cope with stress and exam pressure. Through my practice, I am well aware of the pressures faced by those aged 15 and over both in life itself and in studying for exams. In the meantime, have a look at BBC Bitesize which provide a practical, supportive webpage for young people called the Mind Set.

For now, wishing you all ‘Good Mental Health‘.

Best regards,