Waiting for exam results can be a scary time; it’s like you have an appointment with fear! As the hype starts to ratchet up, your stomach may very well start to churn. Of course this is normal. It is to be expected that you feel stressed, nervous, panicky and anxious. You may not even realise that you are feeling the effects of stress.

You may not even realise that you are feeling the effects of stress. The stress of waiting for exam results could mean that you are experiencing the following:

  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Headaches, abdominal pain, tightness in your chest, pounding heart or breathing difficulties
  • Difficulty in getting to sleep at night
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Abnormal eating habits – eating more than usual or having no appetite for food
  • Irritability
  • Loss of sense of humour and a feeling that things are out of proportion
  • Increased intake of coffee
  • Increase in number of cigarettes smoked
  • Negative thoughts
  • Withdrawal from friends and social situations
  • Lack of motivation
  • Overly tired despite adequate sleep
  • Feeling run-down

What causes stress around exam results time? 
Apart from the obvious fear of receiving results that are not what you expected, a lot of other factors are at play during this time. These include:

  • Wanting to obtain results that reflect the work you put into your studies
  • Pressure to fulfil the expectations of others
  • The need to obtain results to progress to the next step in your career, the course, university or area of work of your choice
  • The fact that these exams results may signify a new phase in your life. You may be leaving home, leaving your friends, leaving the country or changing your normal routine
  • The whole uncertainty of your decisions – have you chosen the right course for you, have you made the right decision?
  • Wanting to get results similar to your friends and peers
  • Fear of failure

What you can do before the exam results?
Look after yourself: In the days leading up to the exam results try to allocate some time for relaxation. This is really important as we often are too busy or too worked-up to think about taking a certain amount of time to just do something that relaxes you. This could include a long soak in a bubble bath, a walk by the beach, time spent on your Xbox or Playstation or just listening to your favourite music. It will be different for everyone and that’s ok as long as you know what relaxes you and you put the time aside for that activity.

Exercise: Exercise is an excellent way of dealing with stress and pressure. You may find it difficult to start exercising but hormones such as endorphins released during exercise help you feel better about yourself and the challenges you face.

Talk to your friends: Consider talking to your friends who no doubt are going through similar feelings as you.

Acknowledge your feelings: During this time you may feel anxious, nervous, excited, hopeless, nauseous or down. It’s important that you recognise how you are feeling and express those feelings. If you feel you don’t want to talk to someone about them, consider keeping a journal or expressing it through art. Check out our Art from the Heart section that allows you to express your feelings anonymously through art.

Realise your own expectations: Take time to realistically consider your expectations for your exam results. Find out what results you would be happy with based on your own targets and not on the expectations of others. What subjects are you good at? What results are you hoping for in that subject? What subjects are you not so strong at? And what results would you be happy with in these subjects? Remember everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

Address the unrealistic expectations of others: If you feel your stress is the result of the unrealistic expectations of others, sit them down and talk to them about what you feel is realistic and why. Dealing with the unrealistic expectations of others can be very difficult to cope with. Once this expectation is discussed and managed properly, it can be a huge relief.

Consult a GP: If you feel like the stress you are experiencing is impacting negatively on your daily life and normal activities, consult a GP for further advice and treatment.

How to manage stress after you get your exam results

Once you get your exam results, the immediate stress may be reduced. Congratulations! The wait is over and now you can consider your next step. Some people will be celebrating; others may be a bit disappointed but it is important to consider the following:

After you receive your exams results, trust yourself and have the confidence to know you did your best: It can be easy to look back over your study time and think ‘I could have done more’ but this is not a very useful thing to do. Retrospective thinking may not always be realistic thinking.

One person’s disappointment is another person’s success: Remember that everyone has different expectations of themselves and goals in life. Be aware of this during the exam results period.

Put your results into perspective: Whether you have achieved the results you expected or not, remember that exams are stepping stones to something bigger. Exams are not always goals in themselves; they can be a means to a goal. Stepping stones can be of different sizes and sometimes may be difficult but the important thing is for them to be used productively to reach where you want to be. Marks should not be the goal; they only help you reach the next class or a level closer to your desired career. If you are disappointed about your results, your goal does not need to change but how you reach that goal may be different. Check out the goal setting fact sheet in the well-being section.

Learn to disassociate your performances from who you are: Everyone is made up of a lot of abilities and skills. Exams judge skills and knowledge; they are not a judgement about a person or a reflection of a person’s self-worth. Remember this, it is important. If you find yourself thinking negatively recently, check out the Noticing Unhelpful Thinking and Changing Unhelpful Thinking modules in the Self Help section.

Treat yourself: The exam results are a stressful time and the hours of work put into achieving them deserves a reward. Whether you are delighted or disappointed with your results, allow yourself the time to treat yourself. If big celebrations are planned, be careful around your alcohol intake. Visit www.drinkaware.ie for more information.

How can I prepare mentally for receiving my Leaving Cert results?
Looking after your general mental health is something we should always do but especially around stressful periods. There are a lot of things you can do to prepare mentally for your leaving cert results. Set aside relaxation time and include rest in your daily schedule. Do not allow other obligations to take up time set aside for relaxation. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and to recharge your batteries.

  • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be exercising, listening to music or dancing or any of the suggestions listed above.
  • Keep your sense of humour. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

Learn the relaxation response
You can control your stress levels with relaxation techniques that evoke the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. Regularly practicing these techniques will build your physical and emotional resilience.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health. The following can help with strengthening your physical health:

  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary “highs” caffeine and sugar provide often end with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you will feel more relaxed and you will sleep better.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
  • Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.

How can I relieve the stress of exams results day?
In the build-up to receiving your Leaving Cert results there are many things you can do to ensure that you are as stress-free as possible. If you have been keeping a stress diary, you will know what type of things stresses you out, how you react to stress and how to best deal with stress.

If you have not been keeping a stress diary, you can still benefit from stress relief techniques. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept.

Avoid the stressor, which means changing the situation
Alter the stressor, which means changing certain aspects of the stressor
Adapt to the stressor, which means changing your reaction to the stressor
Accept the stressor, which means accepting the stressful issue in your life and learning from it.

You cannot change the fact that the Leaving Cert results will arrive but you can alter the stressor, adapt the stressor or accept the stressor. For example, if the idea of going into the school to collect your results, meet your teachers and friends causes you stress then get your results online or via telephone.

In order to adapt the stressor you could adapt how you think about the Leaving Cert results. Instead of seeing them as a major milestone, view them as one step to where you want to be in your future life and career.

In order to accept the stressor, just acknowledge that getting exams results is a stressful time but something that a lot of people go through in order to get to the next point in their lives.

Suppose all my friends do better than me, how can I show that I am happy for them if I’m disappointed with my results?
It can be difficult experiencing mixed emotions. On one hand you are disappointed with your own results but happy for your friends. Remember these people are your friends. Just tell them how you feel. Honest conversations between friends are what keep friendships alive. Don’t let this situation be any different from others.

Are there any physical signs to show that I’m stressed? How do I deal with these?
There are some physical signs that may indicate that you are stressed. These include some of the following:

  • Headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Indigestion
  • Feeling faint
  • Constant fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, tightness in chest
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds

If these physical symptoms are persistent, consult your GP.

What are the emotional symptoms that indicate I’m stressed? How do I deal with these?
Some of the emotional symptoms of stress include the following:

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness

In order to deal with these symptoms, take some time to relax and look after yourself. Do something you enjoy and that takes your mind off all your worries. Talk to someone you can trust and tell them exactly how you are feeling.