Healthy ways to tackle exam stress

Material researched and written by Emily Farley

 •Find some breathing space

Studies have shown that colours can induce different moods and the colour found to be most conducive to revision is sky blue. The colour is tranquil, calm and soothing which promotes a sense of peace and well being; perfect for encouraging a relaxed positive attitude towards your work.

In the same way that mental health specialists advocate the acceptance of worry - in order to minimise negative thoughts and allow distance from painful emotions - a similar principle may be physicalised and applied to your working environment; simply segregate and distinguish between your areas of study and your relaxation space, to aid your revision. 

For instance, only revise at a desk or in an office and relax on the sofa or your bed, this technique acts to focus and engage your mind when you arrive into your work space and to distance your brain from study mode as you leave the area. This process will allow you time to process the information and relax mentally as well as physically. It will also enable you keep your text books and revision notes organised so that you can pick up from where you left your revision.

An additional technique to assist your study sessions and to promote relaxation before your exams is simply learning how to breathe correctly. Effective breathing involves taking breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth in ‘smooth, slow and regular [cycles]’ asserts Dr Dryden, who recommends breathing in twelve cycles per minute. This is a technique that you can practice at home before and after you revise and you can utilise it if you feel shaky preceding your exams. But, if you think that you may be struggling to breathe correctly, you can consult your GP about breathing techniques and may be referred to a specialist.

Remember to take regular 5 to 10 minute breaks to every 30 to 60 minutes of study and drink plenty of water throughout. During your breaks step away from your desk or computer and go into another room –but avoid the television or the internet- or step outside to refresh your body and mind.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to enhance your revision technique and exam performance is to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep. Current evidence suggests that those who get 7 to 8 hours of sleep or more a night may be healthier and less likely to contract illnesses than those who get less than 7 hours a night. Whilst the results of these studies are inconclusive, it is certain that getting a full night of rest during your exam period is advisable.

• Food for thought

It has been scientifically proven that your brain uses the most amount of energy in a day and it is important to fuel your body and mind with the nutrients that it requires in order to sustain you for long hours of revision or whilst you are taking exams. 

Dr Carol Helerstein, clinical nutritionist, asserts that throughout sleep, the body goes into a fasting state and requires a breaking-of-the-fast to jump-start the metabolism, restore blood sugar levels and enable the brain to function and concentrate effectively.

Research also portrays that people who regularly eat breakfast achieve higher exam marks, and demonstrate superior mathematic aptitude and memory skills than those who do not eat breakfast. Specialists recommend slow-burning breakfasts that are low in saturated fat, such as porridge with honey, yoghurt and fruit or sugar and salt free muesli with dried fruit, pumpkin or linseeds and skimmed milk.

However, it is not simply breakfast; keep your mind sharp and motivated and your mood positive, by making sure that you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein like chicken or fish and complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread or whole-wheat pasta.

An excellent quick lunch for a revision day could be a vegetable and chickpea or lentil soup with a slice of whole-grain toast. For dinner, a homemade chicken curry or casserole with basmati rice or sweet potato and steamed vegetables or salad would provide you with the healthy nutrients you need to keep your body and mind healthy and happy.

Avoid sugary or caffeinated snacks and drinks and as these will only disturb your blood sugar levels and cause you to suffer from an energy crash later in the day.


• Joie de vivre

Everyone has anxieties and the chances are that once you have sailed through your exams, you may find that there is yet another area of your life that causes you to worry.

Dr. Windy Dryden contends that anxiety and fear are distinguishable; ‘fear of life-threatening situations is a healthy reaction [however] anxiety is over-concern about some ‘dreaded’ future’ (Think Your Way to Happiness).

Dr. Dryden insists that anxiety can inhibit you from achieving your full potential and alternatively advocates that patients adopt a positive attitude towards living and experiencing life.

Especially during challenging times, do not deny your right to ‘the joy of living’. Allow yourself to relax after a day of revision. Do allow time and make plans to see your friends; laughing and socialising with your friends will give you some recreational time and space to process the information that you have absorbed during your revision and also provide some much needed relief for your brain.

If you are anxious, talk to your friends about what is worrying you or discuss the topics that you revised during the day – it will help you to remember those important facts – but do not dwell upon the anxiety or upon the work. Give yourself and your mind some distance from your revision. You could attend a dance class, paint, read a book, learn to sew, go to see a film or take a relaxing bubble bath in the evening before bed. Spend some time enjoying your life, in whatever ways suit you.

There will be times when you won’t find it easy to let go, so be kind to yourself. Reward yourself with positive affirmations, such as ‘I am making excellent progress with my revision timetable’, ‘I am positive about my revision and my exams’ or ‘I am working to the best of my ability and that is all I can ask of myself’.

Remember that you are not alone and accept the fundamental nature of being human; we may make mistakes – and we all do from time to time – but that is ok.  The most that we can do is prepare ourselves sufficiently and have faith in our own abilities.

• Additional resources for support



Childline: (0800 11 11)

The Site:

BBC Bitesize:

Rising Stars:

Click here for references for how to cope with exam stress

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