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8 Coping Mechanisms to Deal With Exam Stress

Written by Bradley Pines
how to deal with exam anxiety

Picture this. Exam schedules are out. You click on that dreaded button and… BAM!!! 5 exams in 4 days! Your heart starts beating fast. You’re feeling nauseous. You panic. The exam anxiety starts pouring in and you start to wonder how to deal with the stress.

leslie knope, exams feelings

That exam stress happens to all of us. According to The Globe and Mail, 90% of Canadian university students feel stressed and/or overwhelmed during exam periods.

Post-secondary is stressful. Peak stress times are during midterms and exams. Shocker, right? Many students face multiple exams in a short amount of days. When the workload piles up, it creates enormous amounts of stress. When stress occurs, it can be really hard to escape. That can lead to panic and/or anxiety attacks. Students should feel calm, cool, and collected. Of course, that’s easier said than done, eh?

So, how can we really cope with exam anxiety?

There’s no right way to deal with stress. Everyone deals with stress in their own way. Everyone is different and will find mechanisms that work for them over others. By starting early, staying organized, and taking breaks, you will realize that stress CAN be controlled.

Here are 8 amazing strategies to help students cope with stress during exam periods:

1. Put Away the Procrastination

bob's burgers on procrastination

Starting early is one of the biggest struggles post-secondary students have and this is a huge contributor to exam anxiety. Why? (Like you don’t already know.) Procrastination! An article by The Guardian shows that over 70% of students procrastinate. By starting early, you’ll have more time to space out your studying and feel calmer throughout the process, rather than cramming the night before.

2. Schedule Your Studying


Staying organized will help de-stress you. The Huffington Post declares that when we have chaotic surroundings or a fragmented mindset, the brain perceives more demand for energy than our current capacity, which triggers stress. Creating a schedule of what your study week potentially looks like can help ease your mindset. It will keep you organized, create goals, and space out your studying so you’re not cramming everything in the night before.

3. Prepare Yourself, DON’T Compare Yourself

Harry Potter "not as good as you"

We all do it. Yet, comparing yourself to your peers will stress you out even more. Psychology Today states that college mental health experts have found a strong correlation between student stress and social comparison. Your friend might know pretty much everything after a day or two of studying while you need more time to absorb the material. Do not stress! If you focus too much on what other people know, you won’t have time to learn the information yourself. That will stress you out even more. Study how you need to study to be successful!


go to sleep

Who here loves to sleep, but never actually goes to bed? Sleep deprivation is one of the most common issues post-secondary students face during exam season. Whether you’re pulling all-nighters, going to bed super late or waking up super early to study—a lack of sleep is a massive contributor to stress. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that poor sleep quality affects academic performance and daytime functioning, and students who pull all-nighters are more likely to have lower GPAs. I know it can be challenging to sleep with so much on your mind. Take a deep breath, and try to sleep. In the long run, it will really benefit you. For some tips on getting better quality sleep, read A Student’s Guide For Better Sleep.

5. Work Out Your Body and Your Mind

Mr. Potato Head lifting weights

I know, exercising sucks. Even though it may be the last thing on your mind, especially when you’re feeling stressed, exercise is extremely important during stressful times. Additionally, it can be used as a productive study break. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America exercise is vital to maintaining mental fitness just as much as physical fitness and this can help reduce stress. Regular physical activity has been proven to decrease tension, enhance moods, and improve sleep quality as well as overall self-esteem. All of these factors contribute to less stress—which can help clear your mind during the worst time of the year…exam season.

6. Walk Away From Your Problems

Moss, "I'll just walk away"

So If you really hate exercising or don’t have the time or energy to do a full-on workout, then just take a walk. Walking is a great break and doesn’t require much effort at all. Leave your desk and clear your head. According to an article by The Huffington Post, walking will boost endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones. But make sure you walk away from your studies. Avoid walking around the library or near your notes. You will just continue to stress yourself out by seeing the work you aren’t doing at that moment.

7. Tune Out the Exam Anxiety

spongebob listening to music

This is a personal favourite. Music has always been a great way for me to de-stress and it can work for you too! Whether you are taking a break to listen or listening while you work, both are equally beneficial. Listening to music offers a tremendous amount of relaxing effects on our minds and bodies. It slows our heart rate, lowers blood pressure and decreases levels of stress hormones. Classical music is one of the best genres to listen to while studying (lyrics can sometimes be distracting). I listen to the soundtrack of Chopin’s Nocturnes. It is calm, quiet, and a great de-stressor. For all those “classical music is boring” people, give it a try, it will really help.

8. Talk It Out

"I'm feeling a lot of emotions too."

Stress sucks, but everyone deals with it. The problem is that most people keep their stress inside of them, which often leads to…you guessed it, more stress. Talking is a great way to cope because most people know what you are going through. Talk with a friend, family member, or even a professional. Psychology Today suggests that talking can help shed light on your problems and brainstorming with another person will allow you to find new ways to move forward. Stay calm and talk it out. Find help and strategies amongst the people that care for you.

Stress is inevitable but there are ways to overcome it. Everyone is different. There are so many variations of these strategies and other methods that can help.

Exam anxiety doesn’t automatically go away. However, the number one strategy to help with every other coping mechanism is to BREATHE!

sheldon hyperventilating

Okay, maybe not like that. Take a deep breath and slowly take another. Then, attempt one of these strategies. It will ease you through so you can cope with your stress. As post-secondary students, there is no escaping exams. There is definitely no escaping stress.

mr. bean crying

Don’t cry your eyes out! Find ways to deal with stress and conquer your exams to the best of your abilities. Try any of these 8 strategies, or try them all! Something will stick. Now that you have a sense of how to cope with your stress, start studying earlier, develop a plan, and conquer your goals.

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