6 ways to reduce exam anxiety

Exam anxiety happens to all students. These tips will help.

Your heart is beating fast. You can’t seem to catch your breath. Your mind feels blank. “Students, you may now turn over your exam papers,” your supervisor calls. Panicked thoughts swirl around in your head.

Sound familiar? Exam anxiety happens to almost all students. You might experience tiredness, headaches, upset stomach, insomnia and be unable to focus, or just plain grumpy!

Don’t let your worries take over. While we can’t eliminate all stress from our lives, we can control our responses to it. Here are some possible ways to reduce your exam anxiety.


1. Get some extra pet cuddles

This one is our favourite tip. Having a pet pooch or kitty around gives you a boost of endorphins and oxytocin (the bonding hormone). Just 10 minutes of pet cuddles has been shown to reduce stress in students [1]. They’ll also keep your feet warm during those long study sessions!

If you don’t have a pet, visit a friend that does, or take a walk down to your local dog park.


2. Sip on some tea

A hot cup of tea can work wonders on your mood. Herbal infusions have been used to improve mental function for thousands of years.

You’ve probably heard of chamomile or basil tea, but recently it’s been all about Ashwagandha. Also known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry, this wonder herb is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. And right now, you’ll find it popping up in all your favourite tea shops. Some studies have shown a link between Ashwagandha and reduced anxiety [2].

Whether accurate or not, simply pausing for a moment to enjoy your favourite tea can’t hurt!

3. Face your fears

If you’re in Year 12, you’ve probably heard so much about your final exams that you’ve built them up into a huge scary hurdle in your mind.

Exposure to your fears can help make them feel more normal. Ask your teacher for some copies of previous exam papers and practice taking them in an ‘exam’ setting. Set yourself a timer, go all out and have a family member monitor that you don’t cheat! Your teachers will also suggest taking some practice exams at school.

Practice makes perfect, so keep going. Before you know it, facing those exams will feel much more comfortable.


4. Breathe

Mindful breathing has also been proven to reduce exam anxiety in students [3].  When you’re stressed, you go into fight-or-flight mode. Your body releases adrenaline and cortisol (a stress hormone), your heart rate goes up and you breathe faster.

When your body is relaxed, you naturally breathe more slowly and deeply. It makes sense that taking a few deep, slow breaths can trick your mind into thinking that your body is relaxed. And the best part is – you can practice mindful breathing anywhere so it’s easy to try before or during an exam.

Once you’re comfortable using deep breathing techniques, why not try yogic breathing – alternating inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other. It’s thought to balance the two hemispheres of your brain.

5. Aromatherapy

Remember those lavender wheat bags your mum used to give you for headaches and sore muscles? Turns out there could be something to them.

Aromatherapy has been around since Ancient Egypt. There are many fragrances that are linked to stress reduction, with one study finding that lavender and rosemary oils reduced exam stress levels in students [4].

Try using your favourite fragrance while you’re feeling relaxed, then take a scent vial or sprig of lavender with you into the exam. The scent memory will take you back to a more relaxed time, boosting your mood.


6. Soak in some Epsom salts

Epsom salts contain magnesium sulphate. It has long been believed that soaking in a salt bath can soothe tense muscles and improve your mood. The jury’s out on whether this time-honoured method creates actual results. Grandma says yes, but studies are inconclusive.

Whether it’s the moment of escape in a warm bath, or the magnesium that’s doing the trick – it’s worth giving this method a try.

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