What is it?

Like it or not, at some point in our lives, we have to take exams. At school, college, uni, even learning to drive – there’s no escaping them. For some people it’s no big deal, but for most of us, exams are stressful. We all know that a little bit of stress can be a good thing. It helps us to knuckle down and work hard but sometimes exam stress can get a bit out of hand and stop us performing our best.

How much stress is normal?

When we feel anxious, we often give ourselves negative messages like: ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m useless’ and ‘I’m going to fail’. If you are starting to feel like your whole future depends on what grades you get and that you can’t cope with the pressure then you need to talk to someone.

Remember, exams are important – but they’re not the only way to a successful future. Lots of people achieve success in life without doing well in school exams.

What are the signs I am struggling?

Look out for prolonged or extreme cases of the following if you feel the work’s piling up:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Constant tiredness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Poor appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness

Panic is often triggered by hyperventilating (quick, shallow breaths). So if you feel yourself losing it during the exam, sit back for a moment and control your breathing. Deep breath in and out through the nose, counting to five each way.

If you’ve noticed three or more of the above symptoms and you’ve experienced them for a few weeks you may need to do something about your stress levels.

Who can help?

If you are struggling with how you are feeling then it is important you talk to someone. There are lots of people who can help you or help you access support.

You could…

  • Talk to someone you trust: e.g. a family member, at school, youth group, arts centre, sports club, your social worker, a friend
  • Talk to someone who doesn’t already know you or the people in your life – such as a confidential helpline or online service – a useful list of numbers is listed below.
  • Talk to your school nurse
  • Talk to your GP – if your difficult feelings have lasted several weeks and are affecting your life, you could speak to your GP. Your GP is a confidential health service open to everyone of all ages, and they may be able to help you themselves or refer you to a service for youth mental health.

Recommend self-care and management tips?

Get Motivated

  • Start by doing SOMETHING, no matter how small. This helps you feel that you’ve started (even if you still have a bit to go!)
  • Avoid comparing your abilities with your mates. Those “Oh my God I’ve only read ….. 17 times” conversations are such a wind up. Everyone approaches revision in different ways, so just make sure you’ve chosen the method that works best for you.
  • Make a revision timetable to organise what revision or essay work you’re going to tackle each day. This sets it out in small chunks so it makes it easier to think about.
  • Use apps to block social media websites temporarily so you don’t get distracted. (Like SelfControl, Cold Turkey or others)
  • Use Post-it notes to help break ideas down into bite-sized chunks and highlight key points you wish to remember or draw mindmaps to see the big picture.

Making revision more fun

  • Put a treat in random pages – then you’ll have a surprise every now and then!”
  • Break down each hour in to 40 minutes of solid revision followed by 20 minutes of tea making/Beyoncé blasting/wandering in the fresh air

Looking after yourself
At the peak of exam stress, it can be easy to forget about you:

  • Learn to recognise when you’re stressing out. A break or a chat with someone who knows the pressure you’re under will get things into perspective
  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg. We know you don’t want to hear it but no-one can keep going on chocolate, biscuits and caffeine.
  • You deserve time off! Try watching your favourite tv program or chatting with a friend. The most productive brains are those that rest properly too!”
  • Break up your revision with some exercise! Whether it’s a brisk walk or a session in the gym, not only will it let your mind relax for an hour, you’ll also get a burst of energy.
  • Avoid stimulants – caffeine, lots of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs can give you the impression that you are somehow dealing with exam stress. However they can leave you craving more and, in excess, will either slow or bring you down, or over-stimulate you.
  • Go to bed early. Sleep well. Wind down before bed and don’t revise under the duvet – your bed is a sanctuary, not a desk. Get your eight hours.

Keep it in perspective

  • Steer clear of any exam ‘post-mortem’. It doesn’t matter what your mate wrote for Question 2, it’s too late to go back and change your answers, so it will just make you worry even more
  • Exams aren’t the end of the world. There are other ways of achieving in life. In 5 years time you will look back at this and smile. Lots of people achieve success in life without doing well in school exams.

Services available?

ChildLine is the UK’s free, confidential helpline for children and young people. We’re here for advice and support, by phone and online, 24 hours a day. Whenever and wherever you need us, we’ll be there.

• Phone: 0800 1111 (24 hours)
• Website: www.childline.org.uk

Young Minds We offer information to young people and children about mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Mind How to cope with student life: Exams

Going to Uni? Try the Emoodji app.
Emoodji by Mind is a free app for the ups & downs of university life, from exam stress & homesickness to the joys of last exams done! Take a selfie, choose an emoji for your mood, maybe send it to friends – and track your mood over time

BBC Website Exam Stress

13 Tips on how to deal with exam stress

Childline Leaflet: Beat Exam Stress

See Riseabove for advice from Snoochie Shy on dealing with exam stress and her de-stress and re-focus mix.