Dealing with Exam Anxiety and end-of-term Stress

Here are a few ideas to help you through the last days of term and dealing with exam anxiety:

How can I lower my anxiety and stress?

Learning how to relax is crucial. Straightforward, effective, self-help techniques are going to be very helpful in the run-up to the exams, and even when you’re sitting in the exam room.

Breathing techniques
Stress can make you start breathing with quick, shallow breaths and make your heart beat faster than usual. If this happens, sit down somewhere comfortable, if possible. Place onedsc_2730.jpg hand on your stomach and check how quickly you are breathing. If it’s one breath every couple of seconds, take a deep breath and start counting steadily. Breathe out slowly and try to get the last of the breath out on about five seconds. To bring down anxiety your out breath should be longer than your in-breath.  Carry on doing this until you are doing it naturally and you feel your body and mind relax.

Clench your fist five times and then make an 0 with your thumb and forefinger

Clencohing and releasing helps the muscles relax and you can feel the difference between tension and relaxation.  Once you have made the O with with your thumb and pointer finger, imagine a warm wave of relaxation moving down up your arm and with each breath let the warmth spread down to your toes.  If you do this regularly, you will train your body/mind so that every time you make the O your body will respond with a relaxation response.

When you are in your exam, you can quietly make the O to remind yourself to relax your body and mind so you can bring your best thinking to the task.

Grounding and Visualizing

  1. Long, slow spiral out breath – – imagining stress and worry is leaving through your IMG_6859breath  and your energy is going deep into the earth like roots that ground you.
  2. Fully drop and relax your jaw and shoulders.  Imagine they are warm and heavy and relaxed.
  3. Imagine yourself walking into your exam feeling relaxed and confident.  Picture yourself doing your very best and accessing everything you know about your subject.  Imagine yourself looking at the test and saying to yourself, “Slow down. Read all directions and questions carefully.  Take your time. You can do this.  Just do your very best with each question.”

Relaxation routine

  • dsc_2724.jpgClose your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply
  • Locate any areas of tension and try to relax those muscles; imagine the tension disappearing
  • Relax each part of the body, from your feet to the top of your head
  • As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation
  • This  can also help if you are having trouble falling asleep.
  • Some gentle yoga and stretching can also help lower your heart rate and calm your mind.


Mindful Moments


  • Consciously slow yourself down so you
    notice the colours and sounds around  you.  Take some long, slow breaths of fresh air.
  • When you walk  into your exam, slow down to feel your breath and body so physical reality calms your racing mind.
  • Taste your food. Listen to music with full attention.  Practice being present for the very moment that you are living.


Physical activity

RegIMG_7666ular exercise is an excellent way of coping with stress. As little as 10 or 20 minutes a day spent walking, cycling, or at the gym can make a big difference. Blood flow to your brain from cardio exercise helps give you energy and releases some of the build up of  the cortisol and adrenaline stress hormones.


 Eat well. Sleep well    –  so your brain can function at its best.  If you can keep to regular sleep routines even through the crazy study times, it will help you access what you know so your exam marks reflect your true understanding of the material.


Welcome your stress like an old friend . . . . .  “hey there stress – you’re back again.  I feel you in my stomach.  Please help me to do my best.  Let’s work together!”

It sounds bizarre, but see if you can have moments of welcoming your stress instead of tensing and being afraid of it.  Hopefully you can find the sweet spot where it is giving you an edge, but not swamping you.  Stress can work  to energize you and it can fuel a sense of aliveness!

Here is Kelly McGonigal’s startling Ted-Talk on how to embrace your stress response:

And finally – keep in mind that each assignment, each exam, each task crossed off your list is one baby step towards your bigger goals :

10151918_831402633556027_106480061702993591_ncreativity forum art

What do you do to keep you when life as a student seems overwhelming?

IMG_7135How do you find the right balance of stress, relaxation and confidence?  What secrets do you have to share that will help others get through these last days of the term and final exams?


One response to “Dealing with Exam Anxiety and end-of-term Stress

  1. Pingback: Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health·

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