Maintaining mental wellbeing during examinations time

Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse
Mental Wellness

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

This time of year is usually exam season which can be stressful for both young and older students alike.

As people sit for end of year, professional and other exams and assessments, maintaining mental health is critical.

Why are exams so stressful?

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Anxiety about performance
  3. Fear of embarrassment
  4. High expectations for ourselves
  5. External expectations and pressure from family and teachers
  6. Competition with others
  7. Poor preparation
  8. Poor stress management and emotion regulation skills

Common mental health challenges that occur during exam season


Exam stress can result in anxiety symptoms of excessive worry, uncontrollable fearful thoughts, apprehension, thoughts about the worst-case scenario, excessive self-doubt, and overwhelming feelings of dread as well as physical symptoms such as dizziness; headaches; sweating profusely; feeling like there is a lump in one’s throat and losing our appetite. One may have intense, acute anxiety symptoms in the form of panic attacks during exams.


The stress of exams can make our minds so busy that it is difficult to slow down at the end of the day and get sufficient restful and restorative sleep. Agitation, stress and worry also make it difficult to sleep. Poor sleep will affect our ability to focus, our ability to remember and even our sense of self-confidence.

Poor concentration

Exam stress can result in poor concentration and attention that can affect our preparation for exams and our performance in exams as well.

Substance misuse

Some students sadly abuse mental stimulants such as caffeine and methylphenidate in an attempt to improve performance in exams. These substances are addictive and can create challenges with substance use in the future.

Maintaining mental wellbeing during exam season

Mind your thoughts

A disciplined mind is critical during exam time. Our thoughts can create or worsen feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and fear. Becoming aware of one’s thoughts and learning to think in healthier ways can help maintain mental wellbeing during exam season.

Maintain positive self-talk

The person you talk to the most in life is yourself and we often tend to be overly critical and speak to ourselves harshly. During intense periods of stress, it is critical that one maintains positive self-talk.


Learn to self-regulate your distressing emotions when agitated or getting anxious by taking deep breaths, doing some light exercise which can help to calm oneself down.

Maintain a regular routine: eat regularly, take regular breaks when studying and get some fresh air and exercise when possible

 Get enough sleep

A rested, fresh mind is a critical tool when facing exams. Adequate sleep improves our attention and concentration which will help in exam performance.

Stay connected with your support system

Support from family and friends will keep your spirits up even when we are under stress.

Maintain a positive perspective and hope

Hope is mentally protective, even when under stress strive to maintain a positive perspective about your life and your plans.

If you think that you or someone that you know may be struggling with a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist .

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