Coping with exam stress

Exam periods can be really stressful for some. (There is more information about ‘Coping with Stress’ in another section). So, the addition of extra work during an exam period can cause more stress and lead to mental health and physical health problems.

Young people can worry about how much work they have to do, about under-achieving or about the future. When someone is under stress, the body responds by producing adrenaline as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. Here is a clip which explains this really well: 

This response is totally normal and natural but too much adrenaline can lead to unwanted and difficult side effects including feeling sick, experiencing a headache and dizziness. Intense stress can also lead to sleeping problems, appetite loss and can also cause a person to feel angry, unhappy and hopeless. For some young people, feeling a ‘failure’ can feel like the end of the world.


If someone is feeling like this, what can they do? Here are some suggestions:

  • During EVERY school holiday the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) run virtual workshops and one focuses upon coping with exam stress. Information about these sessions goes out to all pupils in school.
  • Have a good read of the valuable information on websites. It really does help to understand more about stress but also to realise that many young people experience the same feelings and difficulties. 
  • Try to keep mentally healthy in order to avoid feeling stress in the first place. This can include following the Five Ways to Wellbeing concept (there is another section on this), following a healthy diet and ensuring enough good quality sleep (there’s a section on this too!).
  • Use breathing exercises as a way to manage stress. It’s a fact that it works! Here is a clip that explains how it works and also a clip to help you to learn a breathing technique.


Ian Robertson: Neuroscience and the Breath 

Pooky Knightsmith: Box Breathing


The following are really important in the run up to exams:

  • Organise your work in a way that works best for you.
  • Revise for short periods of time and take regular breaks.
  • Share any worries or concerns you have with someone you trust.
  • Eat healthily, keep hydrated and have plenty of exercise. Exercise helps to relieve tension.
  • Make sure that you have enough rest and sleep.
  • Use breathing techniques. Get into the habit of using them even during stress-free times.
  • Try to use Mindfulness. Here is an example of a Mindfulness practice.

  • Socialise – having a life outside of school is really important and maintaining this helps to ensure balance and puts things into perspective.
  • Self-care. It’s essential to make time for those things that you enjoy and find relaxing. There are really good ideas on the Anna Freud website: 


What about after your exams?

  • Remember, if you don’t get the grade that you’d hoped for, you’re not a failure. Exam results don’t define you as a person or the rest of your life. There is always a second chance to redo things in life. There are many different paths to reach the same goal or, as many do, find an alternative and better path for themselves.
  • Talk to a member of staff that you get along with well to discuss other options if needs be e.g. resitting an exam, appealing a grade, considering a different course/career. Remember that apprenticeships are a brilliant option too and, often, a better option!
  • If you’re disappointed or worried about your results, make sure that you do discuss this with someone. Don’t keep your worries to yourself.
  • It’s important to focus upon what you have already achieved and to remember that there is more to come!


Help and support available if you’re struggling with your mental health during the exam period:

School Nursing Services Helpline: 07312 263 262

Childline  0800 1111

Meic  Cymru   080880 23456 

Papyrus  0800 068 41 41



Charlie Waller Trust 

Young Minds 


Anna Freud 

Teen Sleep Hub 


Other help available including online counselling:

The Mix 

Kooth     (You, as a young person, can arrange this yourself)


Some people prefer apps. This page has a number of recommended apps: