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Managing student exam stress at home

April 3, 2024
Managing student exam stress at home
April 3, 2024

Summer is around the corner, which means holidays and warmer weather are on the horizon. But for pupils, students and their parents the summer months can be a stressful time thanks to the arrival of exam season.

From SATS to GCSEs, NVQs to A Levels, this is a tough time of year for anyone who’s studying, about to submit coursework or sit exams. It’s also a difficult time for parents concerned about their child’s wellbeing as they juggle the pressures.

Just last year a study commissioned by University College London (UCL) looked into the link between exam stress and mental health issues in adolescents and found a heightened risk.

It’s something that London-based ZoomDoc GP, Dr Jenny Ellenbogen noticed for herself last year.

‘As a ZoomDoc GP I saw a significant increase in requests from university students suffering with their mental health needing to provide proof of their depression, anxiety or stress for administrative purposes,’ she says.

Around this time, Nightline also reported a significant increase in calls to its student-run helpline, particularly about stress and anxiety.

Read more about the rise in university students’ mental health problems

So with stress levels rising amongst students and concerned parents, here’s some expert advice for navigating and supporting your child through potentially stressful times.

Good luck!

Symptoms of stress: what to look out for


Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life for young people and their parents or carers. But there are ways to ease the stress.


‘It can be easy to miss signs of stress in children and teenagers,’ says Dr Jenny. 

‘Although some older children may communicate their concerns and anxiety, children can be good at holding things in,’ she says.

According to NHS guidance, some of the many varied symptoms of stress to be aware of include them:

  • worrying a lot
  • feeling tense
  • having headaches and stomach pains
  • not sleeping well
  • being irritable
  • losing interest in food or eating more than normal
  • not enjoying activities they previously enjoyed
  • being negative and having a low mood
  • feeling hopeless about the future.

Stress in kids: when to worry


Parents play a vital role in helping students to maintain a positive mental outlook in the run-up and during exams.


‘Stress is actually a natural reaction to us feeling threatened or under pressure and so, to help get us through a difficult situation, our bodies release a hormone called adrenaline,’ says Dr Jenny.


Some changes in behaviour at this time of year is to be expected and is even quite normal given the change of routine and challenges that exam season presents.


‘However, if your child seems to be in this stressful state for long periods and does not seem themselves or to be coping, trust your gut and seek help and support for them via the school, a support helpline or your GP,’ says Dr Jenny.


Top tips for managing stress during exam season


Listen to your child, give them support and avoid criticism. Before they go in for a test or exam, be reassuring and positive.


Encourage them to eat well 

Food is fuel and what they eat and when can make a huge difference to their mood, energy levels and overall wellness during exam season. While it can be tempting to let them reach for junk food ‘treats’ as rewards, high-sugar food and drinks can actually do more harm than good, impacting their concentration, sleep and energy levels.

‘Try to encourage a healthy, balanced breakfast such as porridge to keep them full during morning exams or revision sessions. They’ll be less tempted to reach for snacks if they’ve had a good breakfast,’ says Dr Jenny.

Other top tips for a healthy balanced diet include:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables – these will provide energy, vitamins and nutrients to support a healthy immune system.
  • Drink enough water – being hydrated is key to being alert and able to concentrate.
  • Protein to keeps kids full – try hard-boiled eggs, cheese slices and chicken as snacks instead of crisps and chocolate.
  • Healthy, balanced dinners – add plenty of vegetables and grains to help with their five-a-day and keep them well-nourished.


Help them get enough sleep 


Multiple studies show that getting enough sleep is a vital way to consolidate key information ahead of exams rather cramming the night before.


Children and teens still need about 8-10 hours of sleep, advises the NHS but if they’re worried about exams they may not be able to get enough.

‘This is an area that’s worth putting effort in to help them with because without enough sleep they’ll struggle to think clearly and concentrate the next day, whether that’s with revision or an actual exam,’ says Dr Jenny.

Help your child get good sleep habits by:

  • winding down between studying and going to sleep
  • getting fresh air or exercise every day
  • not looking at screens for an hour before bedtime
  • talking through any problems or concerns.

Keep talking

The support group Childline says many children who contact them feel that most pressure at exam time comes from their family so it’s important, as a parent, not to add to the pressure they’re already feeling or putting themselves under. Instead, make sure they know you’re there to talk to about nerves, concerns, coping or anything worrying them.

Childline advice recommends encouraging your child:

  • to think positively
  • be honest about how they feel
  • not to compare themself to friends
  • to de-stress between exams
  • to look forward to an end-of-exam treat or trip somewhere.

NHS advice also recommends encouraging ‘your child to talk to a member of school staff who they feel is supportive.’

‘If you think your child is not coping, it may also be helpful for you to talk to their teachers.

Try to involve your child as much as possible,’ it adds.

Getting help and support for stress in kids

If your child’s symptoms are impacting their studies or day to day life, be sure to speak to a doctor.

‘If stress is making your child unwell, impacting their sleep or eating habits or is causing severe symptoms such as low mood and anxiety, do make sure you get them checked out,’ says Dr Jenny.

To talk to a GP about your child’s stress-related symptoms today from your own home, download our ZoomDoc app to get an appointment at a time that suits you.

Book a doctor’s appointment here

Other helplines specifically for children and young people worth contacting are:

  • Young Minds – a mental health resource for young people.  
  • Childline – a support line for children.
  • CALM – a webchat, helpline and information on coping.

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.