seven tips for coping with revision stress

Exam season is underway across the UK. If you’re sitting exams this summer, you might be feeling stressed and a bit overwhelmed as you try to prepare.

You’re not alone: stress is a normal part of the human experience, and this is a particularly challenging time. But there are ways you can manage this stress and maintain your wellbeing. Developing healthy habits to cope with stress will improve your psychological and emotional wellbeing, and ultimately support your academic achievements.

Here are seven tips that you might find helpful.

1. Take a breath

The first thing to do when experiencing stress in the moment is to take a deep breath.

When you start to feel stressed, your heart rate increases, your palms get sweaty and your blood pressure rises. If you take a few deep breaths when this feeling sets in, you can regulate your heart rate and the physical experience of stress can be reduced. This can help focus your mind and create space to decide how to manage this stress.

Once you have taken a breath, there are other things you can do to help you feel less stressed.

2. Set goals – and be realistic

It is really important to remember that you can’t “complete” revision. Instead, you can set achievable goals that you feel comfortable with.

Don’t write so many things on your to-do list that you feel anxious just looking at it. Think about what is realistically achievable in the time you have, and set goals for revision tasks that lead to steady progress. Don’t forget to factor in time for self-care, and remember to congratulate yourself on your achievements.

3. Take a break

No one can maintain complete focus on a task like revision forever. Over time, concentrating makes us feel tired and actually reduces our ability to complete a activity well. It can also mean we need more energy to complete our task to our usual standard, and increase the chance of mistakes.

So, taking regular breaks really will improve your ability to work hard. If it’s all getting too much, do something else for a bit.

4. Get active – and go outside

Regular physical activity is really important for improving wellbeing and reducing stress. This can be whatever suits you: go for a walk or a run, or take part in a sport you like. Don’t avoid it because you feel you should be revising instead.

Two young women walking in park
You could arrange to go for a walk in the park with a friend.
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

If you can get outside to a local park to exercise, even better. My research with colleagues has shown that during the pandemic, even without the usual levels of social interaction and social support, the simple act of spending time in green spaces like parks had a positive impact on student wellbeing.

5. Find your people

Social connection is a really important source of wellbeing for young people. You might be chatting to friends online throughout the day, but lots of social media use may also have a negative impact on wellbeing. It’s important to maintain connections offline, too: organise hangouts with friends during revision periods, and enjoy time in other people’s company during your rest time.

Your regular breaks from revision are the perfect opportunity to bring some of these ideas together. Perhaps meet up with a friend for a walk in the park.

6. Make healthy choices

It might be tempting to reach for an energy drink so you can keep on revising late into the evening. But drinking energy drinks can lead to poorer academic performance – as can drinking alcohol and vaping.

Instead of an energy drink, just go for water or a nutritional alternative like a fruit smoothie. And instead of staying up late to revise, prioritise your sleep. Disrupted sleep can increase our experience of negative mood, in a similar way to experiencing jetlag – and getting a good amount of sleep is linked to doing better in exams.

7. One size doesn’t fit all

The tips here are backed up by evidence and are a good place to start when it comes to managing exam stress. But you should also think about what you know works well for you. Think about what makes you happy and helps to calm you down if you feel overwhelmed: maybe writing in a journal, or listening to a favourite album. Combining healthy habits and favourite activities is a recipe for success, both in terms of exam performance and stress management.

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