Coping with exam stress

Amany Abdel-Moneim , Tuesday 6 Jun 2023

When we're stressed, our bodies release high levels of cortisol, which can cloud the way we think and get in the way of rational thinking.

Coping with exam stress
Coping with exam stress


As the thanaweya amma exam season approaches, many students may feel stressed and anxious at the prospect of sitting this exam that marks the end of high school and can dictate university and other choices.

They may shut themselves away indoors and bury themselves under a pile of books. Because the thanaweya amma is a decisive moment in their academic lives, in addition to expectations from family and teachers the exam pressures can be tremendous. This stress can give rise to anxiety and affect performance and results as well.

While some people like to believe that a bit of anxiety and pressure can be beneficial around exam time, science suggests otherwise. When we’re stressed, our bodies release high levels of cortisol, which can cloud the way we think and get in the way of rational thinking.

It’s important to stay as cool, calm, and collected as you can during exam periods.

Here are some helpful tips to reduce stress during exams.

Maintain a balanced diet:

Eating the right food during times of stress is crucial for mental health and well-being. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, and lots of water can help to ensure that your body has enough energy to help you to work hard. They can also help you to stay alert, focus better, and manage feelings of stress and anxiety.


Get a good night’s sleep:

Good sleeping habits can help to improve memory and assist your brain in retaining and processing the information you gain while studying. It is important to get enough sleep, especially in the days before exams. To ensure your best performance, aim at getting eight to nine hours of sleep a night.


Exercise regularly:

Build at least half an hour of daily exercise into your timetable. Physical activities like walking, running, and swimming can help to leave you feeling calm, fresh, and energetic for hours. Exercise is a proven stress-buster, and it can help to produce the endorphins associated with feelings of well-being and mental calm.


Practise mindfulness:

Setting aside a time everyday to practise mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises can help you to calm your body’s stress responses. Take a couple of minutes to close your eyes, inhale for a count of three, then exhale for a count of five and then repeat five to six times. This can help your body and mind to relax, concentrate more, and reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.


Prepare a timetable:

A productive timetable can give you a clear idea of how much time you are giving to each subject in your exams and help you to allocate extra time to those subjects that feel difficult. Sticking to a timetable can help you feel more in control of your time, reduce stress, and improve your confidence.


Listen to calming music:

Listening to music can have a relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, slowing our pulse, lowering our blood pressure, and decreasing our levels of stress hormones. Try to set aside ten minutes a day to tune in to some calming music in order to tune out your exam stress.


Take a break from social media:

Stepping away from social media while revising can do wonders for your stress levels. Time can disappear when you’re swiping through your social media feeds, so try to avoid checking apps like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok while revising. 


Stay positive:

Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Stress can give rise to negativity, which, in turn, increases stress. It is a vicious circle that compounds stress and affects every aspect of life. Try to stay positive in order to counter stressful thoughts. 


Clear your desk:

A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. The more clutter you have around your workspace, the less you’re able to concentrate on preparing for your exams. Physical clutter can overload your brain and impair your ability to think, which leads to further stress.


Get some sunlight:

Increasing your exposure to sunlight can increase your serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of mental well-bring. From five to 15 minutes exposure to sunlight per day can help you to keep your serotonin levels in a healthy range.


Try dark chocolate:

Research has shown that eating a small amount of dark chocolate everyday can help to reduce levels of stress hormones.


Ask for help:

If you are struggling, don’t hesitate to talk to friends, family, or teachers about how you are feeling. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to seek professional help and support.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 8 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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