How do I overcome stress and anxiety in the lead up to exams?

by | May 23, 2023 | 0 comments

There is no doubt that exams can cause stress and anxiety. I am going to share some techniques to support you curb that anxiety and stress you might feel while studying for your exams.
The first thing I would say is that a little bit of stress or feeling some pressure in the lead up to exams is perfectly normal. In a sense, it shows that you care about the exams that you are doing. However, when the exam stress and pressure start having an impact on the quality of your study, your sleeping habits, your eating habits, and your mood then it is good to put a plan in place to support you with this.

Plan, plan plan!

To help reduce the stress you are experiencing it is always good to have a study plan in place. Plan for the week of study ahead or plan for the day of study ahead. Make this a routine every time you intend to study. A word of caution here, however, try not to be too rigid with your plan. It is important to have realistic expectations of what you can do in your given time frame. If the plan is too rigid and there is no flexibility it can feel a like a strait jacket causing you unnecessary pressure. Your plan should just give you a bird’s eye view of what you hope to cover in your study. For more information on study plans, have a look at my blog post, “How do I create a Study Plan” .

Looking after your physical health!

By taking care of your physical health, this will have a positive knock-on effect on your mental health. The opposite is also true.


Try to get a good night’s sleep by creating a sleep routine. Exam stress can make you feel more tired than usual. It can also make it more difficult to get or to stay asleep. A good night’s sleep is important for mental health. It helps you to think clearly and gives you a boost of energy to deal with exam pressure and exam stress.
Where you can, try to get 8-10 hours’ sleep a night. Be aware of your caffeine intake, especially energy drinks. Energy drinks can give you the boost that you might need to get you through a study session. However, everything that goes up must come down. What I mean by this, while you will get that boost of energy from energy drinks, you will also experience a crash in energy when the effects of it wear off.

Healthy Food and Snacks

Have a constant supply of healthy snacks food at your disposal. A balanced diet rich in food such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can boost their energy levels and mental health. Some examples include, bananas, berries, walnuts nuts, eggs, spinach, broccoli, turmeric, cottage cheese and green tea. Here is a link to a video on food for exams.


Sports and Hobbies

Students often ask me should they give up their sports and hobbies for their exams. Absolutely not!! Exercise and hobbies will give you the welcome break that you need from your study. Exercise increases the hormone level in the brain and releases endorphins. Exercise helps with sleep, relaxation, staying calm, low mood, and clarity of thought.
Meeting with friends and family for a coffee or a chat can go a long way in the relieving some of the pressure you are feeling.

Regular Breaks

Be sure to incorporate regular breaks into your study plan and your study routine. If you are doing productive revision and you are in the focus zone, it is a good idea to take a regular break every 90 minutes or so. Everybody is different though. What might work for one student in terms of taking a break may not work for another. I would advise not going longer than 90 minutes without taking at least a 10-minute break and getting some rest.

Looking after your mental health

One of the best ways to look after your mental health as you approach your exam in my opinion is practicing deep breathing. I am not going to lie; I was a sceptic when it came to breathwork and deep breathing. However, about 2 years ago I embarked on my breathwork journey, and I can safely say it is life changing. You can do breathe work not only as you prepare for you exams or during your exams, but you can also use deep breathing to get you through any sticky situation. It has a calming effect on the body. Deep breathing helps move your body from a heightened state of stress into a calmer space.

The thing with deep breathing though is that it needs to be practiced. If you start deep breathing as the exam paper is put in front of you in the exam hall, it may have a calming effect but unlikely to have the optimum desired effect.
To use an analogy, if you want to build muscle in your arms, you will go to the gym and you will practice lifting weights for a period of time. The same is said for breathwork. It needs to be practiced. The practice of deep breathing only needs to be for a few minutes every day. Include this as an activity on your regular breaks. Rather than picking up your phone and scrolling on social media, google the following guided breathwork routines:

• Square breath
• Rectangle breath
• 3-4-5 breath

You don’t need to subscribe to an app to get access to guided breathwork. There is a huge number of resources available to you free on the internet.

Talk to someone.

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed about your exams, it is always helpful to talk to someone and tell them how you are feeling. You can talk to a friend, a parent, a family member, teacher, or lecturer. There is always somebody you can turn to who is willing to give you the support you need.

Focus on what is in your control.

When you are feeling the pressure of an exam, it is useful to focus on what is within your control. This helps lower stress levels. You can focus on what you study, how you study, when you study and where you study. You can control how you look after your physical and mental well-being. There is no doubt that there will be things outside of your control, for example the questions that might come up in an exam. Once you focus on what is in your control and accept the things that are outside your control, this will help manage the stress and pressure that comes with exams.

Here are just a few ways to overcome stress and anxiety when it comes to exams. If there are more specific issues you or would like support or coaching with, please reach out contact me for a free chemistry call here.