Calming Down and Busting Stress
Take some deep breaths. Stress and anxiety trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response, flooding your body with adrenaline and making your breaths shallow and rapid. Fight this stress response by taking some calming deep breaths.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, below your ribcage. As you inhale, you should feel your abdomen expand along with your chest.
- Inhale slowly through your nose. Try to inhale for a count of 4.
- Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds. Release the breath slowly through your mouth.
- Repeat this process 6-10 times per minute for ten minutes.
Try progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, can be very helpful in releasing tension and stress. When you’re stressed, your body tenses up, which you may not even realize while you’re anxious. PMR teaches you to consciously tense and then release your muscles in groups from head to toe. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a helpful way to force your body to relax a bit.
- Find a quiet place free of distractions, if you can. Loosen any tight clothing and take a few deep breaths.
- Begin with the muscles in your face, starting with your forehead. Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go, and hold this tension for 5 seconds. Release the tension. Furrow your eyebrows together as hard as you can for 5 seconds, then release. Enjoy the sensation of relaxation for 15 seconds.
- Move to your lips. Purse them as tightly as you can for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Smile as widely as you can for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Again, enjoy the relaxing sensation for 15 seconds. You want to learn what “relaxed” and “tense” truly feel like.
- Continue holding tension in each muscle group for 5 seconds, releasing, and relaxing for 15 seconds for the other muscle groups: neck, shoulders, arms, chest, stomach, buttocks, thighs, lower legs, and feet.
- If you don’t have time for a full-body PMR, focus on your facial muscles, since they can hold an incredible amount of tension.
3Try not to go over the exam in depth straight afterwards. Some people find it comforting to talk to friends a little about what they wrote, whereas some find it much better not to talk about the exam at all. However, going over the exam in great depth, no matter how tempting it is to do so, will only make you worry about answers you can’t change and will unnecessarily stress you out.
- Going over the exam immediately afterwards is also a bad idea because your brain does not perform well under stressful conditions. You will likely not be thinking as clearly or rationally about your performance right after a stressful exam as you will be once you’ve had a while to cool down. You’ll probably feel like you performed much worse than you actually did.
Get some exercise. You might not feel like hitting the gym or going for a run directly after an exam, but getting some moderate physical activity in is a great way to reduce stress! Exercise produces endorphins, which are natural painkillers that boost your mood. If you’re stressed out over your exam, try an aerobic activity like running, swimming, cycling, or even a brisk walk.
- Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall feelings of stress and tension, improve your sleep, and elevate your mood. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of exercise, getting some on a regular basis will help you feel better.
Do something enjoyable to relax. Regardless of your results, you should celebrate the fact that you worked hard on your exams. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. If you can do it with friends, all the better.
- Studies have shown that spending time with friends and loved ones is an excellent way to bust stress and promote a sense of calm and well-being. One study even showed that spending time with a person you consider a “best friend” lowers the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in your body. Make a plan to go out with your mates or see your family after exams.
Do something to make you laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine. It releases endorphins that make you feel happy, and can even increase your body’s ability to tolerate physical pain.
- Go see a funny film. Watch your favorite comedy show. Look up pictures of funny cats on the internet. Whatever makes you laugh will help you sort out your post-exam stress.
Avoid ruminating. “Ruminating” is that “broken-record” loop where you find yourself thinking about the same thing over and over, generally without having anything to add to the thought. It’s common to ruminate about things like exams, but you need to remember that worrying about them after the fact will not have any effect other than causing you stress. Here are some ways to break that broken-record thought loop:
- Try problem-solving instead. Worrying about whether you did badly on your exams can’t change how you performed in the past. It could, however, keep you from performing well in the future. If you’re worried about how you did, try to identify a few concrete things that you can do for the next exam you take. This keeps you focused on positive action for the future.
- Figure out what you’re really worried about. Often, stress over exams is actually stress over something else, such as failing a course or worry that you will look foolish. Identifying your real fear will help you face it — and realize that you can handle it.
- Schedule a “worry break.” Take 20-30 minutes to worry about your exam. It’s often helpful to allow yourself scheduled time to acknowledge negative thoughts, rather than trying to simply ignore them. Set a timer and indulge in your worries. Once the time is up, move to something positive and productive.
Make sure you know when results day is. Usually, you collect your exam results at your college or school but some universities provide an online service for checking results.
- If you aren’t around on results day, make sure you have arranged to have the results sent to your house or the address you will be staying at.
- Don’t obsessively check for results if they’re available online. Refreshing your browser every 5 minutes won’t make results come out faster, but it may up your stress and worry levels.
Spend time with positive people. Studies have shown that humans “catch” emotions about as easily as we catch colds. If you hang out only with people who are also stressed about their exam results, you won’t be able to soothe your own nerves.
- Try hanging out with people who are handling their stress well. Don’t talk about exams or worries when you are together. Focus on positive thinking and fun with each other instead.
Remind yourself of your strengths. The human brain has a strong negative bias, meaning we generally focus more on the negative things and allow the positive things to slip past us. Identifying and reminding yourself of your strengths will help you combat this bias to make sure you’re giving yourself a fair shot.
- Try making a list of things that you know you do well, and things that you can be positive about. For example, if you have studied and revised carefully, acknowledge that as a strength.
5Remember that you can’t control the outcomes of your actions. All you can do is to control your actions. You’ve done that by working hard and taking your exams. The rest isn’t up to you. Letting go of your need to control outcomes — which can’t be done — can be incredibly helpful to reduce stress.
Formulate and write down three plans: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Formulating your first-choice plan and a few backup plans will help you feel prepared, no matter what your results are. Make Plan A for if you do as well or better than you need to in your exams. Make Plan B for if you do worse than expected but not terribly. Make Plan C for if the worst really does come to pass.
- For example, if you have just finished your GCSEs and want to go on to sixth form, Plan A would be to go on to sixth form. Plan B might be to still go on to sixth form but to take different courses with lower entry requirements. Plan C might be to try to get a part-time job whilst arranging re-sits.
- If the exam is for a single course, rather than something like GSCEs, Plan A might be to continue on with your other required college courses. Plan B might be to see if you can re-take the exam or make up your grade with extra credit. Plan C might be to re-take the course after getting some tutoring or taking a remedial course.
- You should also talk this plan over with your parents and friends to get an objective view of things – sometimes, when you’re nervous or upset, you can start to make silly and illogical choices!
- Considering the worst-case scenario can actually help you bust stress if you do it rationally. Think about what the worst thing is that can happen. Can you handle it, really? The answer will almost universally be “yes.”
7Make plans to celebrate when the results come out. Planning something enjoyable for results day will give you something to look forward to instead of just fearing the day.
Get organized for next term. After you’ve enjoyed some relaxation and celebration time, start sorting out and organising any notes, books or paperwork you will need to have ready for the next academic term. Not only will it take your mind off of the wait for the exam results, it will also make sure you don’t have any last minute panics before the next term begins.
- Make sure to take a complete break from schoolwork before going back to it, though. Give your brain time to refresh itself, or you could face burnout.
Open your results on your own terms. Some people like to open their results in front of their friends, some people prefer to have their parents with them, whilst others prefer to find a quiet place where they can deal with the result by themselves. Don’t let anybody push you to open them at any other time than one you are comfortable with.
- Make sure that you do actually face your results, even if you expect them to be unpleasant. It’s natural for people to want to avoid unpleasant experiences, but you need to know how you performed on your exams. Don’t let yourself procrastinate out of fear.
- If you really can’t face opening your results on your own, ask someone else to do it for you and share the results with you. Sometimes, it can be helpful to share the experience with a friend.
- Don’t go through your notes looking for the answers to the exams. You can’t change what you’ve written now.
- If you find yourself nit-picking over a small part of the exam, stop and put things into perspective. It is only in the rarest cases when one small mistake means the difference between a pass and a fail.
- Recognise that everybody gets stressed about exam results.
- Remember that your life and health is more important than an exam you might not even remember it’s result later.
- A little bit of stress is a normal part of life. However, if you think your stress is getting out of control, talk to somebody NOW! If you think stress is causing you serious medical problems, such as significant sleep problems or chronic anxiety, see your doctor or a counselor. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, seek immediate help by calling emergency services such as 999 or Samaritans in the UK (08457 90 90 90) or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK) in the US.