Baylor College of Medicine

Follow the journeys of your colleagues on Progress Notes where Baylor medical students share their stories from the clinics.

Minimize adolescent stress during exams

Homa Shalchi


Houston, TX -

Final exams often cause stress and anxiety among adolescents because of the pressure they may feel from their parents, teachers and peers as well as the pressure they put on themselves. A Baylor College of Medicine psychologist outlines how to manage the pressure during a stressful period.
Students should take important steps to minimize stress and anxiety, especially during exam time:

  • Take care of the basics: Get a sufficient amount of sleep, eat nutritiously without skipping meals and engage in a reasonable level of physical activity.

“A lot of people end up thinking they need to spend more time studying or don’t have time for exercise or meals, but it ends up turning into a vicious cycle of not taking care of yourself, which contributes to worse future performance,” said Dr. Eric Storch, professor and vice chair of psychology in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor.

  • Schedule breaks: Make sure to create a study schedule that includes taking breaks to relax and unwind.
  • Engage in effective cognitive interpretation: Keep things in perspective – do not think about things in black and white terms of success and failure. Talking to a friend or parent can be very helpful.

“Reflect on if the world will end if you don’t get a perfect score. Maybe you didn’t do as well as you wanted on that test, but you didn’t fail,” Storch said.

  •  Plan, then act: Instead of procrastinating, make a plan about what is needed for studying then take steps that are required to get there and act on it. Procrastination will lead to more stress and less time for studying.  

“When you procrastinate, you take all the time you could have been working and ruin it by having this gray cloud hanging above you,” he said.
Parents and teachers should be aware of symptoms of anxiety or stress in students. Younger children might complain about stomach aches or display clinginess. While older adolescents might also convey similar symptoms, they complain about them or describe them differently. Other signs of distress among older adolescents include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Increased emotions 

While social media is exciting to teenagers, it can interfere with schoolwork and can cause more stress. If a teenager has trouble putting the phone or tablet down, if they feel distress not engaging in social media or if it is causing impairment, they should visit a mental health specialist. Storch recommends exposure therapy for patients to understand the fears of parting with social media. He recommends putting the phone down to engage in enjoyable activities and evaluating the outcome.
“Engage in tests to see what happens if you put the phone down and don’t engage in social media for an hour. Does the world end? Does your social standing plummet? Let’s start challenging the degree in which you’re engaging in social media,” he said.

Back to topback-to-top