college student managing stress during exams
Dormify Team

Big Sister Series: How to Manage Stress During Exams

For most college students, exam season comes alongside a bit of stress—and for some, it might be a lot of stress. We get it: Exams are tough, and the pressure and studying involved in the lead-up can get super overwhelming (and might become your biggest causes of exam stress). But the good news is that when it comes to exam stress and mental health, there are lots of strategies to cope with exam stress and help keep your mind at ease. Read on to get our tips for reducing exam stress so you can focus on acing that test.

How can I recognize exam stress symptoms?

Some of the effects of exam stress might include physical signs, like headaches, stomachaches, loss of or increased appetite, and difficulty sleeping. You might also experience extra worrying or even mood changes, like irritability and negativity. But if any of these symptoms increase, make sure to touch base with a counselor, therapist, doctor or parent.

How do you comfort someone who is stressed about exams?

Share techniques for reducing stress, like meditation, exercise and taking breaks. You might offer to do something relaxing and fun with them for a few hours to provide a break from the intensity of preparing for an exam.

Listen! Sometimes a stressed friend might just need a good vent sesh. Bring snacks, lend an ear, offer a fluffy blanket or a hug—all helpful when someone’s feeling stressed.

Encourage your friend to seek help if their stress seems unmanageable, or you are noticing worrying changes in their personality. Reach out to a trusted adult like a parent, teacher or R.A. if you are worried about a friend’s mental health.

How can I reduce my stress and anxiety during exams?

There are so many ways to cope with exam stress! Try strategies like:

  • Move your body. Exercise is a super effective way to clear your mind. Cardio works, but you can also just go for a walk around campus, or blast some good tunes in your room and dance it out.
  • Breathe, breathe, breathe. Practicing meditation and deep breathing can help relax the nervous system. Make the time to practice slow, intentional breath work. Download a guided meditation app like Headspace if you need help figuring out how to effectively slow your thoughts.
  • Talk it out. Don’t suffer in silence! Sometimes, just expressing your thoughts can make all the difference. Vent to your roommate or a good friend, or call a parent or sibling to let it all out. Journaling or simply letting your thoughts flow freely on a notepad can help reduce stress and clear your mind.
  • Schedule regular breaks. Even though you might feel like your time is best spent allocating every free second to studying, that’s actually not the most effective technique. Your brain needs breaks; studying without breaks is actually worse for comprehension and stress. If it’s hard to remember, it can help to set calendar or phone alerts to remind you to take breaks. A good strategy is to plan 10 minute breaks for every hour of studying, and build in longer rest periods to recharge. Your rest time should include actual rest, like sleep, but also mental rest, like hanging out with friends or doing a hobby you enjoy. Even a long shower is a great way to reset your brain—and often, these resets can give you a breakthrough in your work.
  • Nourish your body and your brain. Fuel your body with healthy foods that will keep you energized and focused. It might be hard to resist, but exam time is not the time for junk food! Prioritize nutrient-dense foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to keep you going and give you plenty of energy. Want extra credit in this category? Focus on foods that may be linked to brain health, such as leafy greens, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, berries, walnuts, and even caffeine (in moderation!).
  • Get lots of sleep. Sleep is both refreshing and healing for your body and your mind. It may feel tempting to skip out on sleep hours when you have a lot to do, but it’s really important to prioritize shuteye so you can be healthy. Plus, your study sessions will be more effective if you have a rested mind!
  • Ask for help. If you feel like you’re not managing your stress well and things are starting to feel overwhelming or hopeless, make sure to ask someone you trust to help you.