Five Ways to Wellbeing at Exam Time

Exam time is a difficult time for everyone, though for some more than others.

So it’s important to remember that you can do things to help yourself remain calm and in control, throughout those weeks when your adrenaline can be flowing a little more rapidly.


Here are some evidence based ways that we can look after our mental health, a bit like a ‘5 a day for the mind and soul’.


  1. Keep Connected; stay in touch with the people around you, the people who care about you and who can support you in life
  2. Be active; go for a walk/ run/ swim, breathe in some fresh air. Exercise on the Downs. Release that adrenaline in a positive way
  3. Take Notice; notice the world around you, the changing seasons, walk around and observe what is happening. Be aware of your feelings
  4. Keep learning; learning new things can be fun if you make time for it, and for yourself too
  5. Give; do something nice for someone else. Cook a meal/ help out your community/ volunteer. It is scientifically proven that being nice to others releases a happy hormone (oxytocin) and makes you feel better too!


However, if doing all these things isn’t enough to support you through a difficult time then remember we are here to help, as are the Counselling service, and other services in the university, like the Multifaith Chaplaincy.

It is normal for exam time to be stressful, that adrenaline can help focus the mind and bring your performance up a notch, but if it feels out of control, and overwhelming then please ask for help sooner rather than later.

Good Luck!

Dealing with Exam stress part 2

Hi, my name’s Rick and I work at Students’ Health two days a week, delivering cognitive-behavioural based talking therapies to students struggling with difficulties such as anxiety and depression.

 As the dreaded exams loom, the people I see often find that their problems become more difficult to cope with. This is because, frankly, there are various aspects of studying at a University that are psychologically downright unhealthy:

 The perfectionism, the isolated nature of the work, the unrealistic amounts of work expected, the competitive nature of the whole thing, the lack of instant reward for the hours and hours of hard slog put in, the uncertainty about what the future holds beyond University… etc etc etc

 I still vividly remember my own struggles with all this; and anyone who was in the vicinity of the Psychology department at Exeter University in 1989 will maybe recall my own less-than-ideal attempts to cope with it.

 The good news is that 23 years later, I’m full of good ideas about how to deal with the stress of University work, most of which I’ve learned fairly recently from working here with you.

 Here are 5 top tips for psychological wellbeing at this difficult time:


1.   Use a diary/ schedule to plan your work and your revision

     By planning work you can break it down into manageable chunks and hopefully find it less overwhelming. Try not to plan unrealistic amounts; 5-6 hours a day is realistic for most people. Plan breaks and relaxing/ fun activities as well and try to start as early as you can: If you’ve already done 3 hours work by lunchtime, you’re less likely to get stressed as the day wears on.

     Above all, see what works for you.

 2.  Try not to compare yourself with other people

 There are always going to be people who seem to get up at 6.00am and spend their whole day in the library, working for 14 hours without a break. Do not compare yourself with these people and on no account try to compete with them. Work at a pace that suits you, and try not to pick up on other people’s stress.

 3.   Try to avoid falling into spirals of negative thinking

     There are various unhelpful styles of thinking people can fall into when under pressure. These include predicting the future, catastrophising, and  black and white thinking, among others. There’s a link to 12 of these and what to do about them attached below.

 4.   When work stress and anxiety do start to get on top of you, take a look at what you do in response to this

      Do you dive under the duvet? Go to the pub? Switch on daytime TV? Phone a friend? Go for a brisk walk around the block? Surf the internet? Go to the gym? Jump up and down and scream?

      Try writing down what you do, and try to notice what’s helpful and what isn’t, in terms of keeping you calm and allowing you to complete what you need to complete.

 5.   Remember that the whole thing is time-limited: It will not last for ever and you can only do what you can do in the time you’ve got

Soon it will all be over…


If you are struggling with anxiety and/ or depression and would like help and support, you can contact Rightsteps Bristol on 0117 9431111 and self refer. It is a free service. Alternately you can e-mail me at


How to beat exam stress

Things the prospectus doesn’t tell you #17: Revision and exams

John Wilford, Sport Exercise & Health


Arrrggghhh.  Are your days broken down into 30-minute, colour-coded blocks of revision? Getting up early to claim a library desk? Staring at notes and screens until your eyes throb?  Before you know it the day ends, you’re hungry, dehydrated and your head hurts.  Welcome to the Summer term! 

 Stop. Breathe. Relax. You’re a finely-tuned, exam-passing machine. An athlete of academia. For any athlete, quality of training is more important than quantity; rest, recovery and refuelling must be programmed into their day. 

 Now look at that revision planner.  Which coloured blocks are for eating, sleeping, relaxing and exercising?  Don’t run on empty. You need to be relaxing, refuelling and refreshing yourself to survive and do well. 



  • Relaxation techniques: Practise tensing and relaxing each muscle group in turn starting with your toes and working your way up the body.
  • Breathing: Practise breathing deeply, evenly and slowly.
  • Sleep: If tired it’s hard to concentrate and maintain perspective. If you’re finding it difficult to drop off, cut down on stimulants (e.g. caffeine and alcohol) and allow time to unwind before bed. The key to feeling refreshed is having a regular pattern. Getting regular exercise helps (but not immediately before bed).
  • Massage and exercise (pilates, yoga, tai chi separately or combined in ‘Body Balance’ classes) are available from Sport, Exercise & Health
  • Therapeutic relaxation groups are organised by Student Counselling



What we eat and drink influences not only physical performance but mental performance too. If you want to boost concentration, memory and mood in the run up to exams try some of these:

  • “5 a day” of fruit and veg
  • Oily fish every week
  • Cut down “bad“ fats. Don’t rely on fast food!
  • Good breakfast to start the day
  • Eat regularly and have healthy snacks (raw carrots, celery, chopped nuts, raisins, dates, etc.)
  • Drink plenty of fluids (recent research suggests drinking water during exams can help improve grades – so don’t forget your water bottle!) though limit caffeinated and sugary drinks, especially before bed
  • Go steady with alcohol – bad for performance and sleep quality



Some anxiety can help motivate, but high levels of stress cause excess adrenaline resulting in headaches, racing heart, fatigue, irritability and sleep problems.  Physical activity uses this adrenaline, reducing these symptoms. It also releases endorphins, improving your mood.  Including some exercise in your day will boost energy and clear your head. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour gym session or a five-mile run. A brisk walk is great exercise and doesn’t need specialist kit or planning.  Even small bouts of activity can reduce tension and boost productivity.

 An organised class or activity could help.  Schedule them to fit your timetable.  It will give a welcome break from academic thoughts – and you’ll mix with different people.

 University gym staff note that many regular exercisers stop during this time of year.  Apart from one notable group – medical students.  What do they know that others don’t…..?


So, Wilf’s theory of revision optimisation (with apologies to mathematicians everywhere)…


Relaxing x Refuelling x Refreshing = Revising3



Further information: