+44 (0)800 193 3277
[email protected]

Orchestrate Health is a private pay healthcare company and works outside of the NHS

Young Persons Mental Health and Exams

Young Persons Mental Health and Exams

“When the world feels like an emotional rollercoaster, steady yourself with simple rituals,”


Navigating mental health during exam season: effective strategies for managing anxiety in teenagers without medication

As exam season is looming once more, the topic of exam stress among students over the age of 16 begins to gain prominence. This critical period is often marked by heightened anxiety that can significantly impact both academic performance and overall wellbeing. Recognising the role of individual differences in how students experience and manage this stress is crucial, yet frequently overlooked. While some students find that exam pressures motivate them, others may feel overwhelmed, leading to anxiety, depression, and sometimes the development of more severe mental health ailments.

The changing landscape of education, with more rigorous GCSE and A-Level curricula that rely heavily on terminal exams, has led to an increase in students seeking support2,3. Recent data, including the 2017 State of Education Report, indicates that over 80% of secondary school leaders have observed a rise in mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression among their students between 2015-20173.

This blog aims to shed light on effective, non-prescription strategies to manage exam stress, providing essential insights for healthcare professionals, educators, and the families of those affected. The following sections will explore a variety of approaches that cater to the diverse needs of students facing exam pressures, offering practical advice and support to help them navigate this challenging time more smoothly – as well as understanding when patients may need to be referred to young person’s mental health specialists.

Understanding exam-related anxiety in teenagers

Exam stress is a specific type of performance anxiety that arises from the anticipation of being evaluated in an examination setting. For many students aged 16 and over, this period is marked by a significant increase in pressure, which can manifest in various physical and psychological symptoms. Common signs include excessive worrying, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep disturbances, as well as physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat.

Factors Contributing to Exam Stress:

Exam stress is often compounded by both academic and social pressures. Academically, the fear of poor performance and its implications for future education and career prospects can be overwhelming. Socially, students may feel pressure to match or exceed the achievements of their peers, which can intensify feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.

Impact on Mental and Physical Health:

The effects of sustained stress are profound. Chronic anxiety can lead to decreased academic performance; a phenomenon well-documented across numerous studies. For example, a meta-analysis covering results from 238 studies between 1988 and 2017 clearly shows that higher exam anxiety correlates with poorer educational outcomes, such as standardised test scores and university entrance exams4. Beyond academics, prolonged stress can cause long-term mental health issues like depression and anxiety disorders, and physical symptoms that can affect students’ overall well-being.

By understanding these stressors and their impacts, healthcare professionals, educators, and families can better support young individuals during these critical exam periods, helping to mitigate the negative effects and promote a healthier approach to academic challenges.

Managing examination anxieties in young people: current trends

As exam seasons intensify, the strategies employed by schools, parents, and students to manage stress become increasingly critical. Traditionally, schools have implemented study support sessions and stress management workshops to prepare students for the demands of exams. Parents often play a supportive role by ensuring a balanced routine at home, maintaining a calm environment, and encouraging regular breaks and leisure activities to counterbalance study commitments.

Rise in anti-anxiety prescriptions:

While there is a noted increase in prescriptions for SSRIs among students aged 14-18 during the late autumn months5, this trend could indirectly relate to the anticipation of upcoming mock and summer exams. These findings suggest a need for greater awareness and alternative or improved support systems for students during these peak periods.

By understanding these trends and expanding the support available, healthcare professionals, educators, and families can offer more targeted and effective interventions. This not only helps in alleviating exam stress but also in fostering a healthier approach to academic challenges among young people.

Alternative approaches:

In addition to conventional prescription-based anxiety management methods, there is a growing interest in non-prescription alternatives to support mental well-being during exams. Some educational institutions are beginning to adopt mindfulness programs and relaxation techniques as part of the curriculum to help students manage stress effectively. These methods aim to equip students with the skills to maintain composure and mental clarity during challenging periods.

Techniques such as yoga, meditation, and exercise6 are recommended for their proven benefits in reducing anxiety and improving focus. Nutritional advice also plays a crucial role, with a balanced diet being linked to better cognitive function and lower levels of stress.

Non-prescription anxiety management techniques and tips for young people

Exam season can be an anxiety-inducing time for students, but there are numerous non-prescription methods that can significantly alleviate unease and apprehensions, while enhancing overall well-being. Understanding and implementing these strategies can be invaluable for anyone supporting young people through their examinations.

Lifestyle Modifications:

The foundation of stress management often begins with basic lifestyle changes:

  • Sleep: Adequate rest is crucial. Encouraging regular sleep patterns and ensuring that students get 7-9 hours of sleep can dramatically improve concentration and decrease irritability.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity is highly effective at reducing anxiety. For example, an article from Medical News Today6 suggests that high-intensity exercise might be particularly beneficial, not only managing symptoms but in some cases, acting as a substitute for more traditional treatments.
  • Diet: Modifications in diet can also play a significant role in managing anxiety – it is no secret that the brain and gut microbiome are deeply intertwined. Reducing intake of caffeine and alcohol, and maintaining a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains both dramatically support overall mental wellbeing.


Talking therapies provide a valuable outlet for students:

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: This form of psychotherapy is known for its effectiveness in treating anxiety by helping individuals manage their anxiety through understanding and changing thought patterns. Some even consider it to be more effective than medication7.

Mindfulness and Meditation:

Incorporating mindfulness and meditation into daily routines can help reduce the stress associated with exams:

  • Breathwork: Simple breathing exercises can help control panic attacks and ease the mind when feeling overwhelmed.
  • Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT): As noted in a clinical psychology review, MBT has emerged as an effective treatment for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress8.

Study Techniques:

Implementing efficient study techniques can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed:

  • [GK|AC3] : This involves studying in blocks of time (typically 25 minutes), followed by short breaks, helping to maintain focus and prevent burnout.

These strategies not only support students in managing their own exam stress, but also foster a sense of ‘taking back control’, therefore contributing to long-term mental wellbeing and academic success. By adopting these approaches, caregivers and healthcare professionals can provide meaningful support that goes beyond traditional medical interventions.

How and when healthcare professionals should support exam anxiety in young people

During exam season, the role of GPs, psychiatrists, and other healthcare professionals is crucial in identifying and managing exam-related anxiety in young people. Early detection allows for timely intervention, which can significantly mitigate the adverse effects on mental health and academic performance.

Healthcare providers should be vigilant in recognising early signs of stress during routine consultations. Symptoms such as increased irritability, changes in sleep patterns, and difficulty concentrating are key indicators that a young person might be struggling. When symptoms persist or significantly impact daily functioning, referral to specialists like those at Orchestrate Health can be essential. Services include at-home and online treatments, which are particularly beneficial during exam periods when students cannot afford to be away from their studies or do not want to stay outside of familiar environments. These options provide the necessary support without disrupting daily routines, catering specifically to teenagers who may have anxieties about receiving treatment in unfamiliar settings or would rather have their family, friends and support network around them whilst receiving treatment.

In addition to direct medical support, healthcare professionals can play a pivotal role in education and awareness. Conducting workshops, seminars, and distributing resources about managing exam stress and the importance of mental health can empower both students and their families to take proactive steps toward wellbeing.

From understanding the underlying factors of exam anxiety to implementing non-therapeutic methods for management of these anxieties, the importance of a comprehensive approach is clear; lifestyle modifications, mindfulness, and appropriate medical support play in enhancing the mental well-being of students during critical exam periods.

For healthcare professionals, recognising early signs of stress and providing timely referrals to specialists like Orchestrate Health ensures that students receive the necessary support without disrupting their academic commitments. The availability of at-home and online treatments offers flexible, accessible options that are crucial during the intensive exam season. Healthcare providers, educators, or family members can all help young people to apply these strategies and must remain steadfast in supporting the young individuals in their care. Should the need arise, do not hesitate to seek professional help to guide students through these challenging times effectively.

By fostering an environment that prioritises mental health as much as academic success, we can help ensure that our young people not only survive but thrive during their examination periods.


1 – https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/12214/3/Examination%20Pressures%20on%20Children%20and%20Young%20People%20Are%20They%20Taken%20Seriously%20Enough.pdf

2 – https://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/abs/10.12968/bjsn.2016.11.5.252  

3- https://view.joomag.com/state-of-education-report-2017-state-of-education-booklet-final-web/0676372001494577623/p22?shor

4 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29156362/

5- https://mentalhealth.bmj.com/content/26/1/e300855

6- https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-to-treat-anxiety-without-medication

7 – https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/medication-or-therapy

8 – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735813000731?via=ihub

9- https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/pomodoro-technique#:~:text=The%20Pomodoro%20Technique%20is%20a,tomato%20(plural%3A%20pomodori)

We are here to help

Contact us to find the care you need today.

+44 (0)800 193 3277 or
[email protected]


Contact us today

If you would like to know more about how treatment could benefit you or your loved one please submit your details below.

+44 (0)800 193 3277 [email protected]

Orchestrate Health is a private pay healthcare company and therefore works outside of the NHS and CAMHS provision.

Professional Memberships

Our professionals work alongside respected industry-specific organisations

Orchestrate Health is a trading name of Addcounsel Limited which is registered by the CQC.