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Expert Psychologist reveals signs of anxiety to look out for and tips on how to manage results day stress

Ahead of A-Level results day (18th August), new research by Nido Student has found there’s been a significant rise in Google searches relating to results day stress and anxiety compared with this time last year.

Since May, there has been a 400% increase in searches for ‘exam results anxiety’ and an increase of 250% for ‘what to do if I fail my A-Levels’, which has also seen a 600% increase year on year.

This year’s cohort of A-Level students have worked through particularly challenging times with the pandemic and then adjusting to post-pandemic school life, which must only be adding pressure, when it comes to receiving their results. In light of this, Nido Student’s in-house Psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo has highlighted signs that students may be more worried about results day than they’re letting on and given her top tips on how to manage results day anxiety.

Dr Tara says: “There is no doubt that many [students] are experiencing a myriad of feelings about the world right now, especially in the run up to results day. These may include anxiety, frustration, fear or overwhelm. 

“Trying to ‘get rid’ of unwanted feelings can be emotionally and physically exhausting, which is why we want to provide support with recognising the signs of results day anxiety, so that students don’t struggle on their own.”

To support students with preparing for A-Level results day on 18th August, Nido Student has created a results day checklist that students can follow. 

The checklist includes practical advice, such as learning more about what university clearing is, and wellbeing-based advice such as planning in self-care time for after results day. 

Signs that students may be more worried about A-Level results day than they’re letting on

Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo says: “The signs of anxiety vary from person to person [but] it’s completely normal, especially around big life events such as receiving exam results.

“If you’re experiencing or feeling something that is different to your normal self, it’s always good to share these feelings or symptoms with someone.

“If you’re a parent worried about how your child is coping with the exam results, wait, check-in with them, ask them how they’re feeling and if they don’t want to talk about it, try planning some nice things to take their mind off of the subject instead.”

Signs of exam results anxiety

  • Psychological signs of results day anxiety – Anxiety can look completely different from person to person, for some it could be feeling nervous, on edge or panicky all the time. It can also manifest as feeling overwhelmed, full of dread or feeling out of control.

    “Students waiting for exam results may also find it difficult to switch off and relax, while simultaneously struggling to concentrate or be productive. This can affect mood and behaviour because they are being pulled in different directions, unable to concentrate but unable to switch off.”  
  • Physiological signs of results day anxiety – Results day anxiety can manifest in different ways, and can be as much physiological as psychological.

    For some students, they may experience broken sleep or trouble getting to sleep, while others may have less of an appetite in comparison to normal. Things like a dry mouth or wobbly legs are also a common sign of anxiety.

    Other physiological signs of results day anxiety include:
  • Feeling restless, unable to sit still or needing to do something with your hands
  • Increased heart rate (wearable tech sometimes alerts you to this)
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Tummy pain or gastrointestinal problems you don’t normally have.  
  • Social signs of results day anxiety – There are also social signs that may indicate a student is more concerned about results day than they’re letting on

    Students may experience restlessness or a shorter temper during social interactions which could be an indication of exam results anxiety or stress.

    With results day looming, students could find themselves having the urge to avoid situations or people that trigger anxiety. They could even lock themselves away in their rooms more often to avoid social situations.

Dr Tara & Nido Student tips on how to manage results day stress and anxiety

Dr Tara is keen to reassure students that being anxious or stressed about results day is completely normal. “Remember, anxiety is a normal response, we all get anxious about things that matter to us so don’t be too hard on yourself or deny your feelings.

“Recognise that these feelings are natural and hopefully will only be with you for a short while. It’s important to focus on what is in your control.”

  • Remember your wellbeing baseline – Go back to basics and remember to keep your wellbeing baseline – eat well, hydrate, move your body.

    If you can’t sleep the night before just rest and relax, try to focus on something else or try some mindfulness exercises, there are lots of great apps for this.  
  • Don’t go it alone – If you’re worried, tell someone and talk about it. Friends, support groups and many schools and universities have dedicated support lines for students worried about results.

    It’s important to be kind to yourself, you have been through a lot! Talk to those around you about reducing any unnecessary pressure such as chores, deadlines or helping others if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Grounding exercises – Grounding exercises are great for times when you feel overwhelmed with difficult thoughts, feelings and body sensations.

    Try to take a deep slow breath in through your nose and out again through your mouth. Pay attention to your senses and your surroundings. Try and name 3 things you can see, hear, smell. Push your feet into the floor and focus on how this feels.
  • Try making a list of what is concerning you – Which of these things are out of your control right now and how can you control some of the feelings of uncertainty around those?

    What can make you feel more prepared, perhaps having phone numbers for clearing lines or universities ready for example?  
  • Take targeted time out – Taking planned periods of time out from the world around you is evidenced based to reduce overwhelm and increase resilience.

    Plan a time each day to read a book, have a bath or do something for yourself like watching a nostalgic film or listening to a podcast that always makes you laugh.

    Turn off social media (or your phone completely!) and take a break from socialising for an hour or so.
  • Think positively – Have some positive thoughts in your mind to balance out any of those negative ones that creep in.

    For example it’s worth remembering that even if you don’t get your grades, universities are set to offer 30,000 courses through Clearing in 2022 so you’ll still have lots of choices and options. Plus, Clearing stays open until 19th October 2022, you’ve got time, so don’t rush into anything you’re not sure about. You are in control.
  • Plan in something nice for yourself – It’s important to make sure you have something nice planned to celebrate your achievements. Coffee and cake, lunch at your favourite restaurant, drinks in the evening with friends, whatever the results, you’ve worked hard and should celebrate with friends or family.
  • Get a results day pack together –  Doing this the night before may help you feel like you’re ‘doing something’ and may help take your mind off of things for a short while.

    You’ll likely need:
  • A fully charged phone with all the numbers you’ll need, including the official clearing hotline, and the university faculty’s phone number
  • A notepad & pen, preferably hardback so it’s easy to write on it without leaning on something
  • Printouts of your essential info so you have it to hand if you’re on the phone. For example UCAS track number, first and conditional offer details, and a page of useful numbers like university and clearing numbers. UCAS also have some incredible resources on the clearing process and how to make the most of it whether you archive your results or need to change your plans, so you could also print these resources out too
  • A list of questions you might want to ask tutors if you think you might go through the clearing process
  • Gather your personal statement and GCSE results – just in case.
    Research and save the relevant phone numbers you might need on the day.”

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