How I manage the physical signs of exam stress

16 May 2018,
By Beth, Student at Nottingham Trent University

After experiencing symptoms of stress during exams, I decided to do some research. I've now got a better understanding of why this happens, and what we can do to overcome it.

Here are seven different ways I felt the stress of exam time, and how I learned to deal with them.

1) Increased heart rate

The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are triggered to prepare your body for 'fight or flight'. 

TOP TIP: Stop what you're doing and take a few deep breaths. Clear your mind and tell yourself everything is OK.

2) Difficulty sleeping

Probably due to a combination of excessive studying, coffee, too much time staring at a screen, and worrying.

TOP TIP: Don't look at a screen for an hour before bed to help your mind relax. And avoid caffeine after 4pm.

3) Headaches

Tension headaches come from unconsciously tensing muscles due to stress, combined with looking at a screen for too long. 

TOP TIP: Doing hand reflexology on myself really helps with headaches, along with taking regular study breaks to stop eye-strain.

4) Dry mouth

Dehydration is the primary cause. But you also breathe quicker when stressed, and breathing through your mouth instead of your nose will make your mouth drier. 

TOP TIP: Carry a bottle of water and chewing gum at all times.

5) Sweating

A stress response that some sources say is to prevent you needing a wee mid 'fight or flight' – so you sweat out the liquid instead. 

TOP TIP: Again, try some deep breathing to calm you down – and avoid clingy clothes if you're worried about sweat patches.

6) Shaking

Lack of sleep, altered eating patterns and the extra adrenaline in your blood can give you the shakes.

TOP TIP: Eat regularly, stay hydrated and try to consciously relax your body if you feel shaky.

7) Tiny attention span

You're trying to concentrate but you just can't as there are so many things going round in your head, and everything takes twice as long to do.

TOP TIP: A 5-10 minute meditation helps me calm down and regain focus.

If your symptoms don't go away

This can start to feel like a vicious circle and it might be hard to see where your stress ends and a long term problem begins.

If you want to talk to someone, contact Nightline – a confidential listening service for students run by students.

For more information about the causes of stress and how to deal with it, visit Mind.

Good luck with your exams!

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By Beth
Student at Nottingham Trent University