Navigating Exam Stress in the last few months

It’s the time of year when we’re frequently asked by our clients for tips or recommendations for students who struggle with exam stress and increased anxiety.

We spoke to psychotherapist and counsellor Nikki Harris to see if she had any nuggets of wisdom that she could share and she has written this insightful and practical list for us!

Are exams causing you to feel more stressed than normal? 

It happens to us all and it’s important to feel you have some coping strategies in order to feel you are doing something to reduce the stress and/or anxiety as much as possible.

Here are some helpful pointers which can help yourself to reduce the stress.

  • Let’s firstly look at your diet.  Are you eating regularly and are you eating healthy? Lots of protein and lots of fruit and vegetables. Three balanced meals a day are important.  Stress and anxiety increases when one’s body is not receiving the nutrients and vitamins it needs in order to be healthy. A healthy body is a healthy mind. Both are always working together. 
  • Water – are you drinking enough? Eight large glasses of water as a minimum should be your rough guide. Carry around a large fillable water bottle with you wherever you go. Drink throughout the day. Hydration is vital. Drinking during revision and also the exam period is vital for concentration.  Again healthy body, healthy mind.
  • Exercise – are you doing any/enough? Exercise increases overall health and a sense of well-being as well as having some direct stress-busting benefits. Physical activity helps bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Think about how you can incorporate exercise into your day. Factor this in and make the time.  Swimming, jogging, or even a brisk walk. Find something that works for you. Remember healthy body, healthy mind.
  • Take regular breaks from revision – you may find after 40 minutes, that your mind starts wandering. Rather than ignoring this, take a break. Get a healthy snack. Take a walk around the garden to get some fresh air. Take the dog up the road.  Go for a 20 minute run. Have a chat with a friend or family member. Then go back to your work. Short regular breaks are important. 
  • Don’t eat dinner too late. Try and finish eating by 7pm. Cut down on sweet things late at night. Stay off any caffeine in the late afternoon/evening. 
  • Sleep – Think about your bedtime hygiene. Switch all devices off at least an hour before you intend to fall asleep. Have a bath. Take this time to relax your body and mind. Listen to music. Read a fiction book when you get into bed, let yourself totally switch off from your revision. Let your mind escape the stress, which will allow you to start to  unwind. A good 30 minutes of reading. Low/dim lights in your bedroom can help. 
  • Download a mindfulness app, such as HEADSPACE or CALM.  Either before intended sleep or during the evening after revision.  Ask a sibling or parent to do the mindfulness exercises with you, if that helps.
  • If at any time you feel stressed and/or anxious, take some time to do some deep breathing. Deep breaths in and count to 7, and deep breaths out for 7. Continue for at least 3 minutes.  This will slow down your entire nervous system.  Start to learn how to breathe deeply and as a consequence your body will learn how to relax. It’s a skill and it does take time. Persevere if it doesn’t come naturally.
  • Positive Journalling – keep a notepad and pen by your bed. Journal every night. Reflect and write down the things you feel proud of from the day. Acknowledge your achievements and celebrate your successes.
  • Timetable – make yourself a realistic revision  timetable. Incorporate everything covered above.  Meals, exercise and down-time.  These are all just as important as the actual work.
  • If you are feeling anxious or stressed, reach out to your friends.  Arrange revision time with friends. Don’t keep your stress to yourself. Share it with family and friends. Offloading and connecting with another human being is important.. It will help you to not feel alone. 

If you feel you could benefit from  Counselling and Psychotherapy, please don’t hesitate to contact Nikki. She can organise individual or group sessions to support students with exam anxiety.

With over 20 years experience, Nikki is a UKCP registered and accredited Psychotherapist and Counsellor, based in Elstree & Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6.