Student Support

Coping with Stress during and after Exams

Student Support

Coping with Stress during and after Exams

Pre and Post Examination Stress & Anxiety


Everyone experiences stress at some time or another. It might be caused by problems at school or work, relationships with friends, siblings or parents, moving to a new place, or a traumatic event.

Stress can affect people in different ways:

  • have you become sad, angry, or anxious
  • have you started to lack of confidence in yourself or in other important figures in your life
  • are you avoiding other people especially close friends or family
  • are you finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning
  • do you have an upset stomach or cramps
  • do you get tension headaches or knots in your neck or shoulders
  • are you having problems eating or sleeping

You probably can’t get rid of stress totally, but you can manage it


Getting stressed is totally normal during exams but it can get out of control so be aware of Exam Stress.

A little bit of stress can be a good thing as it motivates us to knuckle down and work hard. But exams can make stress levels get out of hand, which can stop us from performing our best. So it's important to address it and get it back under control.

Challenge the causes

  • Try and identify the things causing you stress and challenge them if you can
  • Is it a person or people causing you stress? Try and talk to them about their behaviour
  • If you are a young teenager you may be experiencing hormonal stress from puberty, talk to an older sibling or your parents about what you are feeling
  • Keep a stress diary each night and record the things that seemed to cause you stress during the day

Challenge yourself

  • Express yourself – draw, write, play music
  • Exercise – walk, run, cycle, walk the dog, join a gym, play a sport
  • Avoid harmful behaviours like drugs, cigarettes and alcohol and situations where you might be put under peer pressure
  • Talk to someone – don't be afraid to ask a friend or your parents to listen or call a support line if you want confidential support

Stress Symptoms

Look out for prolonged or extreme cases of the following if you feel the work's piling up:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Constant tiredness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Poor appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness

If you've noticed three or more of the above symptoms and you've experienced them for a few weeks you may need to do something about your stress levels.

How to manage exam stress

  • Learn to recognise when you're stressing out. A break or a chat with someone who knows the pressure you're under, a teacher, parent or family remember who has been through exams recently, will get things into perspective.
  • Avoid comparing your abilities with your mates. Those "Oh my God I've only read Macbeth 17 times" conversations are such a wind up. Everyone approaches revision in different ways, so just make sure you've chosen the method that works best for you.
  • Make a realistic timetable. Stick to it.
  • Eat right. Treat yourself like a well honed machine - eat fresh fruit and veg and have a proper breakfasts. Fuel your brain as well as your body - no one can think straight on coffee and chocolate.
  • Sleep well. Wind down before bed and don't revise under the duvet - your bed is a sanctuary, not a desk. Get your eight hours.
  • Exercise. Nothing de-stresses the mind faster than physical activity, so build it into your timetable. Being a sloth makes our mind sloppy too.
  • Quit the bad habits. Cigarettes and alcohol never stopped anyone being stressed for very long.
  • Panic is often triggered by hyperventilating (quick, shallow breaths). So if you feel yourself losing it during the exam, sit back for a moment and control your breathing. Deep breath in and out through the nose, counting to five each way.
  • Steer clear of any exam 'post-mortem'. It doesn't matter what your mate wrote for Question 3(b), it's too late to go back and change your answers, so it will just make you worry even more.
  • Ultimately, don't lose sight of the fact that there is life after exams. Things might seem intense right now, but it won't last forever.

WATCHING: BE AWARE OF THE WARNING SIGNS

Be aware of what your friends are doing and how they are behaving. As a friend you could be one of the first to become aware of changes in behaviour.

Warnings signs to watch out for may include but are not limited to:

  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Having difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Feeling tired most of the time.
  • Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or guilty.
  • Talking about suicide or death.
  • Self-destructive behaviour like drinking too much or abusing drugs.
  • Losing interest in favourite things or activities.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Mood swings.

SHOWING: SHOW YOU CARE

Let your friend know that you really care. Ask about their feelings. Listen carefully to what they have to say.

Here are some examples of how to begin the conversation:

"I'm worried about you/about how you feel."
"You mean a lot to me and I want to help."
"I'm here if you need someone to talk to."

ASKING: HOW STRESSED ARE THEY?

Talking with a friend about stress can really help them but it's very helpful to try and find out how stressed they are. Be direct in a caring, non-confrontational way.

Here are some ways to ask questions:

"Are you struggling to cope at the moment?"
"Do you have any of these symptoms?"

  • Difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Constant tiredness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Poor appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness

HELPING: GOING THAT EXTRA STEP, GIVING OR SEEKING HELP

If a friend tells you they are stressing out, having anxiety attacks or even thinking of suicide, never keep it a secret, even if you're asked to. Do not try to handle the situation on your own. You can be the most help by referring your friend to someone with the professional skills necessary to provide the help that he or she needs. You can continue to help by offering support.

Here are some ways to talk to your friend about getting help:

"I know where we can get some help."
"Let's talk to someone who can help. Let's call the helpline now."
"I can go with you to get some help"

If a friend ever mentions suicide, take it seriously. If they have expressed an immediate plan, or have access to prescription medication or other potentially deadly means, do not leave them alone. Get help immediately from your GP or another medical professional. If necessary take your friend to the nearest hospital or Accident and Emergency.


Friends can help but sometimes what you are going through is too big to handle by yourself and you need an adult to get involved.

But who do you ask for help?

choose an adult you trust - maybe it is a family member or a neighbor, a favorite teacher, your priest or minister. You might also consider approaching your doctor or another health professional or you could call a helpline

What do I say to start the conversation? Aren't they going to think I am crazy and need to be in a hospital?

  • Try asking them first if they have time to talk
  • Tell them that you want them to listen and not be quick to give advice or judge
  • Tell them that you are having a hard time, that you can't see any way out of your problems, and that you have thought about ending your life.

Most adults will try and listen to you carefully and offer you their support. They will also have a good idea of where to get help, and if the matter is serious they can go with you to talk to the police or appropriate agency.

If you feel that the adult you have chosen is unresponsive, not taking you seriously or is being judgemental then you should thank them for listening and walk away. Some adults have their own issues and they may not be a good choice to talk to about your concerns.

You should always try talking to another adult and not give up, your concerns and feelings are real and important and they deserve to be heard. You can also talk to someone at one of the national helplines 24/7/365.


Helplines and Support Groups



If you need help or support please visit our website ineedhelp.ie for information and contact numbers.

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