It’s a fact. There’s no getting around it. Exams suck. Even if you’re lucky enough to be amongst the few people who can handle exams without stressing out, EVERYONE gets anxious and nervous about them.

‘Sometimes the best thing you can do is not think, not wonder, not imagine, not obsess. Just breathe, and have faith that everything will work out for the best.’

It’s completely normal to have feelings of anxiety occasionally – especially about exams. In fact a little anxiety can actually help you be more focused. But if you become overwhelmed by anxiety it can prevent you from doing your best, and you may end up cheating yourself out of the results you deserve.

So let’s try to understand what happens to our minds and bodies when we feel anxious. You’ll probably experience some physical symptoms, such as:

  • a churning feeling in your stomach

  • feeling light-headed or dizzy

  • feeling restless or unable to sit still

  • having headaches, or other aches and pains

  • breathing more quickly

  • having an irregular/increased heartbeat

  • sweating or feeling too hot

  • having problems sleeping

You may also notice some effects on your mind and thoughts:

  • feeling tense or unable to relax

  • having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst

  • feeling self-conscious

  • over-thinking everything

  • feeling disconnected from your mind or body, as though you’re watching someone else

  • wanting lots of reassurance from other people

But you CAN make the exam experience a lot less stressful by adopting a few simple coping strategies:

GET ENOUGH SLEEP - The powers of a good night’s rest cannot be overestimated. I bet you wouldn’t leave your phone uncharged overnight, so don’t do it to your body! The ideal minimum is 8-10 hrs of good quality sleep – turning off all screens an hour before you want to sleep. Lavender is a great essential oil and a few drops on your pillow can really help you switch off.

EAT WELL - Junk food and sugary foods/drinks might taste great, but they really don’t do your brain or body any favours. Try to focus on ‘healthy fuel’ during the exam period – carbohydrates, proteins, veg & fruit. They can be really tasty you know!...And drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated and stop you feeling tired.

USE BREATHING EXERCISES - This is a great way of calming down and relaxing your body and brain. There are all sorts of breathing techniques you can use, but a really easy one is ‘Finger Breathing’: Start with the thumb on the index finger. As you inhale, slide the thumb towards the tip of your index finger, then as you exhale, slide the thumb back down the index finger. With the next breath, move on to the middle finger, and so on. By the time you’ve reached the fifth finger, you will be feeling considerably calmer – and you’re unlikely to have been thinking about anything else whilst you’re concentrating on doing the exercise! It is a perfect thing to do just before you go into an exam.

TALK – A problem shared is a problem halved. However anxious you might feel, talking about your worries really does help. Confide in your family and friends and let them know how you’re feeling. If there are things they can do to help you feel less anxious and more secure, ask them to do them! The people who care about you want you to have the best chance, and it will really help them to know how they can help.

MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL – DON’T WORRY! Worrying won’t answer your exam papers and it certainly won’t make anything easier or better. Whenever the worry sets in, do the breathing exercises or use distraction techniques, such as listening to music, having some fresh air, or doing some exercise.

“Listen to the ‘mustn’ts’ child, listen to the ‘don’ts’. Listen to the ‘shouldn’ts’, the ‘impossible’, the ‘wont’s’. Listen to the ‘never haves’, then listen close to me - Anything can happen, child, ANYTHING can be” – Shel Silverstein