Managing Exam Stress08/05/2023
Are you feeling Exam Stress?
For many of us, May marks the arrival of brighter days and better weather with the promise of summer to come. But, if you’re a Junior or Leaving Cert student, your reality probably feels very different right now as the exams get closer.
Regardless of how focussed you are on your studies, feeling under pressure, stressed or anxious is completely normal leading up to exams. And this stress can extend to family members too.
So, it’s important to recognise when stress and anxiety levels rise, whether in yourself or in a family member. There are steps you can take to help manage these unwanted feelings and help get through this stressful time.
Once you get underway every exam will appear less daunting and ultimately, exams will come and go. So too will these feelings of stress and anxiety.
Your mental health is most important! If you’re very anxious or having panic attacks or if you’ve an ongoing low mood or aren’t sleeping, it’s time to take action to manage this. A good first step is to reach-out and tell a friend, teacher, parent or your GP how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. Often, simply by telling someone, things can feel easier to deal with. Similarly, parents can equip themselves with the knowledge to recognise when your child’s mental health may be suffering.
3Ts Hints and Tips
Identify your stressors: As the exams approach, it can feel overwhelming. Stress management starts with identifying the key source of your stress. Obviously exams are the main culprit, but by identifying specific things you are most worried about, you can take back that sense of control. It could be the thought of walking into the exam hall, not getting the grades you want or opening the exam paper to find the question you studied hasn’t come up. Once you’ve identified what your own biggest worry, you can try to adjust your thinking to imagine things going your way. Not only does this boost your confidence, it provides you with positive thoughts when fear starts to fester.
Don’t compare yourself: maybe easier said than done but trust us, comparing yourself to others just makes everything worse and is a recipe for ruining your confidence. It doesn’t matter if your friend got grinds in every subject, spent 3 hours studying yesterday or got 7,000 points in their mocks. It's no reflection on you nor on how you'll perform in the exam. So, try not focus too much attention on what other people are doing. Instead, focus on what you can do with your own time over the next couple of days and forget about the past.
Prioritise your time: You can’t do everything. There's all sorts of advice out there with long lists on how to perform well in an exam - study in a tidy space, organise your notes, reduce sugar / caffeine intake, turn off your phone, take vitamins etc etc. But while these tips are good, you’re only one person. By giving yourself too many rules, you can add to your stress. Instead, try to be practical. Create short-term schedules to get you through each period of preparation. Put in study time that's relevant to each upcoming exam. Top tip: don't spend all your time drawing up your schedules, rewriting them and colour coding them. You're just avoiding studying and you know you are;). And don’t forget to include some time for you to do things you enjoy. This could be cooking, reading, watching Netflix, going for a walk or a run or just lying on the sofa catching up on Insta. A little bit of escapism is a good thing.
Avoid other stressed people: This is key! Have you ever felt confident and calm and then all of a sudden you’re in a panic after meeting up with a friend who is super-anxious and stressed? Stress can be contagious, especially when exams are approaching so to protect yourself from this, it might be a good idea to keep a distance until the exams are over. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend, it just means that you’re focusing on YOU until the exams are over.
Organise yourself & your kit: Once the exams are here, take steps to avoid that frantic early morning panic when you can’t find your calculator. Give yourself time. Take 10 minutes to prepare yourself the night before. Get your clothes together, make some lunch and put all your essentials in your bag. Once you’re all packed up, you’re free to relax before bed knowing that you’re all set for tomorrow.
SLEEP! You need it. It’s your no. 1 wellbeing tool. Pulling that all-nighter and drinking 6 cans of Red Bull is just a waste of time and will leave you feeling burnt out. You may think that studying late can reduce stress because you feel you’re being proactive, but lack of sleep can actually increase feelings of dread and anxiety, and can effect your concentration the next day. So, get to bed at a reasonable hour and try not to spend too much time scrolling before bed.
It’s hard to believe now, but these exams won’t determine the rest of your life. Take it from us! Of course, doing your best is important but minding your mental health is more important.
If panic strikes, take a minute to focus on your breathing, then reach out and tell someone close. On our website, we’ve whole sections on Stress, Anxiety & Panic and on Self-Harm. Take a look if you need some guidance or tips.
Finally, when you are finished these exams, make sure to reward yourself by doing something you love. You’ve just completed a huge milestone in your life and this is worth self-appraisal. Whatever that means to you and no matter how you feel you did in the exams, you deserve a treat!
Additional 3Ts Resources
These above tips can make a huge impact on your day to day life during the stressful exam period. If you would like some more information, we have some great resources available here.