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Managing Exam Stress

December 3, 2015

By Kelly Pedersen

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As you are reaching the end of the fall semester here at Mason, and are in the middle of final exams, projects, and papers, graduate school can often feel overwhelming. This time of year can be hectic: with increased academic stresses, you may find yourself particularly vulnerable to feelings of tension and anxiety.

The effects of stress can be emotionally and physically draining. Researchers from Carleton University Institute of Neurosciences have found that students anticipating exams were more likely to get sick than other grad students and that illnesses often lasted after the exams were over. They also found that the function of the immune system changed in relation to stress levels during the two-month period.1 It’s important to manage the effects of stress on your mind and body.

For some, academic stress may happen concurrently with other life challenges like family or employment problems or financial issues. Any of these stresses can lead to periods of high stress which can contribute to intensified anxiety, feelings of depression, or even thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Fortunately, there are some simple and effective strategies, recently published by George Mason’s Counseling and Psychological Services to help you manage stress during difficult times…

  1. Keep focused: Ask yourself, “What’s Important Now” Concentrate on the right details at the right time and prioritize.
  1. Stay positive: Replace negative thoughts about yourself with positive thoughts so that you are your own best ally rather than your worst enemy.
  1. Trust your talent: When worried about your ability to perform well, think of similarities between the challenge in the moment and previous situations in which you have excelled or surpassed your expectations.
  1. Tackle challenges rather than avoid them: Identify difficulties and write down a plan of action.
  1. Stay connected to others: Success isn’t achieved in isolation. We all need others for support and guidance.
  1. Maintain balance and avoid unhealthy coping: Remember to feed the whole self not just your mind as a healthy self is a critical ingredient for success. So sleep, eat well, exercise, make time for fun and laughter, and avoid things we know aren’t healthy (such as alcohol or other drugs).
  1. Ask for help: Everyone wants and needs help at times, but most people need help getting help. Reach out to others- friends, student leaders, family, advisors, faculty members, a counselor. Or call or drop by one of the offices below. You are surrounded by people who are here to help!

 Human hand with pen writing document and crumpled paper on table

Helpful Resources

Counseling and Psychological Services: Counselors are available to speak with you anytime about emotional or personal concerns that you may be experiencing. Counselors are also available to discuss concerns you may have for another student and can identify ways to help that student receive assistance. During business hours, call 703-993-2380. After business hours and on weekends, call CrisisLink at 703-527-4077 or visit CAPS’ website.

Learning Services: Learning Specialists and peer academic coaches provide individualized academic coaching as well as workshops and other programs to help students develop skills to sustain attention, manage academic assignments, avoid procrastination, and stay on task. For more information about these services, call 703-993-2380 or visit Learning Services’ website.

Student Support and Advocacy Center: Staff offer guidance to students in resolving educational, personal or other difficulties by helping them get connected to university and community resources. For more information, call 703-993-3686 or visit their website.


This blog post has been edited and updated by Nikita Thadani to reflect current information as of April 28, 2021.

Kelly Pedersen is a former Graduate Assistant with University Life Arlington and was a masters candidate at the College of Visual and Performing Arts in the Arts Management program.


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