Exam stress and how to overcome it

Have you experienced overwhelming stress and pressure in the lead-up or even during an exam? Well you are not alone; according to ReachOut, 65% of young people aged 14-25 experienced exam stress in 2018. Studies have also shown that female students experience significantly more exam stress and anxiety and report a greater need for family support than male students. This article will help you understand more about exam stress itself and how hypnotherapy can help you.



It is well known that stress affects our overall physical and mental health. Small levels of stress can help heighten our senses and our focus, but too much stress affects our studying and our performance in exams. When we experience too much stress, it reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex; an area of the brain memory heavily relies upon.

An overload of stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, get released and can create difficulty in focusing, headaches, nausea and insomnia (studies have shown sleep to be very important in consolidating things we have learnt from the day), demonstrating not only is it important to reduce stress and anxiety for our general health, but also to improve our studying, and exam performance.

Why we get stressed

There are five prominent reasons why we experience exam stress:

Fear of the unknown
We don't know what questions are going to be on the test paper. The best way to counter this is to prepare on the different topics that can come up in the exam and try, and recreate real-life exam conditions with past papers, set times etc. This gives us a familiarity with the exam before we actually take it.

Experiencing a lack of confidence and/or a lack of preparation can create stress because you fear the inevitable. The best way to overcome this is to simply revise, do test questions and past papers. This slowly increases our confidence as we build up that wealth of knowledge. “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare”.

The stakes
By stakes we mean the importance we put around “passing your exams” to be successful and having illustrious careers. The message to get appreciate is that our lives are not over because we didn’t pass an exam. There are many examples of people doing great things without doing well in exams and academic performance is not always a true measure of intelligence.

Naturally, perfectionism can be stress-inducing because we set unrealistic goals for ourselves which cannot be reached. To overcome we first must appreciate we have this trait, and then we can set realistic goals and targets.

Past failures
Failing previous exams can, of course, affect your confidence and make you expect the worst. However, it is important to remember that we all make mistakes, learning from our mistakes is how we improve.

How hypnotherapy can help

Having learnt simple ways to tackle the five prominent reasons we experience stress during an exam, it’s important to learn how to reduce stress generally and improving our studying and exam performance.

Breathing is an excellent tool for aiding relaxation. Studies have shown using relaxed breathing techniques before a test, significantly reduced test anxiety. An easy breathing technique you can use is to simply make your exhale slightly longer than the inhale. This activates the vagus nerve which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing blood pressure and slowing down your heart rate.

Exercise is also a great tool to reduce stress, because it releases feel-good endorphins and is a good distraction. However, it is important to break up the day with your own personal preferences of what you enjoy, to reduce levels of stress and not overwork yourself. Which for you, may not include exercise but may include gaming, cooking, Netflix, etc. Continuing to socialise is also important. The build-up towards exams has a very detrimental effect on social life and studies have shown levels of stress hormones are much lower when time is spent with others compared to solitude. 

In hypnotherapy, we teach relaxation techniques such as the breathing technique mentioned, along with physical and mental relaxation. Also, hypnotherapy can help the quality of revision too, helping you retain information and by identifying which type of learner you are:

  • Visual - visual learners process information better when they can see a visual representation, i.e. graphs and diagrams.
  • Auditory - auditory learners benefit best when they hear the information.
  • Reading/writing learners - these learners prefer to have information displayed in word or text form. Note taking, writing essays, reading through notes is how these learners process information best.
  • Kinesthetic - kinesthetic learners learn best by doing, through physical activities, these type of learners usually have excellent physical memory.

A common behaviour associated with exam stress and anxiety is to over revise, which is detrimental to revision and learning. Hypnotherapy will also help you find the right balance between revision and activities you enjoy. 

The subconscious mind has an almost infinite memory capacity, and this is the area of the mind hypnotherapy works most with. There can also be underlying causes or more deep-rooted reasons for heightened anxiety while studying for exams and doing coursework. Hypnotherapy can be very effective at getting to the root cause of our issues.

If you feel you or someone you know may benefit from hypnotherapy to help reduce exam stress and improve overall performance, hypnotherapy can support and guide you to improving your well-being and your grades.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Rochester, Kent, ME1 3EJ
Written by Andrew Laing, Rochester Hypnotherapy Clinic - BSc (Hons), HPD, NCFE
Rochester, Kent, ME1 3EJ

Andrew is a qualified Hypnotherapist who runs Rochester Hypnotherapy Clinic and specializes in Sport and Exercise. I adopt an integrated approach using Hypnotherapy, NLP, TFT, CBT, EMDR, Counselling, and Psychotherapy to help clients with a full range of issues.

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