Exam Stress and Study Skills

Neuroscience confirms that young adults are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety than mature adults. However independent they seem, teenagers and under 30s need consistent adult support, love and consistency during the challenging exam season.

Pre-frontal lobes – the centres for executive function, reasoning and restraint – are not fully formed until our late twenties. That means that students in the teens and twenties, although they have a vast capacity to absorb new information and to learn fast, can also easily become distracted, stressed or depressed.

Here’s some useful guidance for managing your own mental health and wellbeing while increasing your chances of success, as well as some explanations of how Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and Coaching, NLP goal setting and NLP anchoring can help teens, young adults and mature students to navigate the exam season with calm confidence.

Mirror Neurons and Relaxation

Wired, stressed and anxious parents will impact negatively on teenagers. Parents can also help young adults deal with stress and anxiety during the exam season, by being as relaxed as they can be.

Marco Iacoboni is a neuroscientist best known for his work on mirror neurons. He discovered these small circuits of cells in the brain activated when we perform actions such as smiling, laughing or even picking up a pen. Surprisingly, mirror neurons are also activated when we observe someone else performing that same action.

In other words, the brain experiences little distinction between seeing and doing.; between observing and directly experiencing and between imagining and experiencing. We are wired to internalize the movements and mental states of others from childhood. It’s how we learn. It’s also a principle hypnotherapist use to help create new and helpful behavioural templates.

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, and the bank of NLP techniques I used with young people, use the imagination and creative visualisation to help students stay calm and focused during the study season. SFH can help regulate sleep, reduce stress and visualise success so that when confronted with an exam paper, instead of anxiety and fear, students can stay calm and focused, performing to the best of their ability.

Nourishment and Sleep

Students need to look after their physical health to minimise changes in mood, exam stress and social anxiety, and the manage the general physical and mental demands during this challenging time. Do the obvious stuff. Get enough sleep, nourishment, and exercise. Eat well: choose fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains for long-term energy (reducing sugar and caffeine). Exercise to send oxygen to every cell in your body so that your brain and body can function well.

Teens and tweens are now taught a lot about nutrition, health and exercise and may well be able to draw up their own exam season healthy eating programme. Helping plan meal times, may be a great way to start a constructive conversation about work and study balance.

If eating patterns have gone astray, and students are snacking, eating sugary treats and consuming large amounts of caffeine, Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help get you get back on track. Using Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, and sometimes NLP techniques, I can help break unhealthy eating habits and gently shift your focus back to healthy, regular and sensible eating which will undoubtedly help with sleep, processing and learning.

Managing Mental Health Issues

If students or those that care for them are also managing mental health issues, then the exam season can be particularly stressful. It is important that parents explain to their children any health issues they tackling, and how they are coping with them in the most sensitive and clear way that they can. It’s particularly important that children and young adultys understand that any mental health, or emotional issues parents may have are in no way their fault or responsibility.

Adolescents do need to know that life isn’t perfect and that mental health issues are a normal part of being flawed and human. That also signals that they can talk about their own fears and anxieties openly if they need to.

Remember mirror neurons make it impossible to mask what you are feeling, Teenagers have the adult capacity to understand anything that is explained to them but, if what they are experiencing and what you are telling them do not tally, that may increase their anxiety. Honesty is the best policy.

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can be as effective for depression as it can for anxiety and OCD. Regular hypnotherapy through the exam season for those with mental health vulnerabilities can help to ensure that revision, learning and taking exams does not become overwhelming. Weekly hypnotherapy during the study season can help to build resilience and prevent susceptible students from tipping in to depression or persistent anxiety.

Stay Connected

Spending time with friends or family is essential for good mental health during this exam season.

Parents, carers or guardians may feel this is the time for young adults and teens to cut back on socialising. And of course, it is a time of focused and concentrated revision. However, the nature of that intense learning process means it’s even more important to wind down and relax between revision periods. And to stay connected with friends and family.

When we share activities and socialise, it helps keep serotonin levels steady; and serotonin is known to be the most important neurotransmitter to maintain our mental wellbeing and build our resilience.

Social engagement – not virtual but real - and shared endeavour is rewarded with feel good neurotransmitters. When the chemicals in our minds and bodies are in balance, so are we. Social engagement has an impact on the steady flow of our happiness neurotransmitter, Serotonin.

When studying, you will feel happier, unwind more easily and become more resilient as a result of a healthy level of weekend socialising with friends, and shared family time.

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy also helps to maintain a steady flow of serotonin, and helps to create a balanced, stable and secure sense of self during periods of intense revision, making it easier to socialise in moderation and to stay connected.

Connect with Nature

Connecting with nature to reduce stress does sound obvious and you really don’t need to be told that getting out in the country is good for your health. But when you are in the midst of heavy duty revising, getting out into the countryside might be a bit of a challenge. Butjust a short walk to the local shops, biking through the woods or even hanging out in a park or garden will help ease anxiety and help you to feel more grounded and at peace.

And the good thing about the exam season is the weather improves, so you can revise outside, with or without friends. Learning quotes, the periodic table, key facts and formulae can be done on your own or with friend anywhere. So make revising fun, relaxing and memorable in all sorts of outdoor places: parks, fields, public gardens or even a balcony. Being in an unusual place will embed the learning, and the more pleasant and relaxing that place is, the more relaxed you will be in the exam hall when you need to recall the information. By remembering the place where you studied, you will recall what you learnt in that place more readily.

Even putting plants and flowers in study rooms, or oil diffusers with smells like lavender and sandalwood can help soothe nerves, and even act as triggers for learning. A quick whiff of sandalwood before the exam can help you retrieve the learning associated with the smell – our most evocative sense.

So make as many opportunities as you can to get outdoors - alone, with friends or with family.

When you can’t, hypnotherapy scripts are a good substitute; I use scripts that evoke a tropical island, sailing, forests, rainbows and stately homes!


Some will be in sports teams and don’t need encouraging to take part in exercise. Others may be a little reluctant. But we know exercise has a positive effect on our wellbeing in so many ways, including reducing stress. If you are less sporty, or naturally studious, you might find other ways to keep moving whether that’s yoga, swimming or that relaxed stroll in the countryside.

Maintain your Happy Chemicals

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter than sends messages between nerve cells. As the precursor for melatonin, serotonin helps to regulate the body's sleep-wake cycles and regulate our internal clocks. Setotonin is most commonly understood to play a part in regulating emotions, but it also plays a role in appetite, motor, cognitive and autonomic functions although neuroscientists are not entirely sure how. But we do know that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression.

And we also know that a steady flow of serotonin is linked to mental health and wellbeing.

One of the reasons I studied and practice Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is that it helps to regulate levels of serotonin naturally, reducing anxiety and improving mood.

how i can help

So if you are about to enter the exam season, remember you don’t need to study all the time to learn optimally. Take regular breaks, and factor in down time to allow the subconscious mind to process and absorb what has been learnt during study periods.

If exercise, countryside, family and friends aren’t enough to keep you feeling safe, secure and focused, get in touch. With my bank of NLP tools and techniques, Solution Focused Brief Coaching and Hypnothetapy, I can help students to:

  • Anchor a stare of calm, focused concentration to be recalled when you turn your exam paper.

  • Ensure sleep and eating patterns are regular and healthy during the exam season

  • Reduce anxiety and increase mental focus through hypnotherapy

  • change unwanted behaviour patterns and habits and help you replace these with good study habits

  • Help clients formulate and visualise goals and hopes around successful outcomes

  • help clients take incremental steps towards successful outcomes, by embedding good habits and healthy routines

  • Help clients minimise irrational fears of failure, obsessive ruminating and self limiting beliefs

For young students suffering from anxiety around studying and exams, experiencing sleep issues or self-limiting beliefs about their ability, I would advise booking in 4 to 6 sessions, 7 or 8 weeks before the first exam is due to be taken. We can then work out together a tailored programme that will measurably increase the chances of success, and reduce the impact of the exam season on overall mental health and wellbeing,


Photo courtesy @elevate on Unsplash


I am practising Solution Focused Hypnotherapy from The Wellbeing Clinic, Headington, Oxford. My first consultation is free so if you think I can help you manage your own stress and anxiety, or help your child manage their stress and anxiety during the exam season, do get in touch.

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photo (c) Nathan Anderson was good