Exam stress: When is it good and when does it turn bad?

Although our lives cannot be completely stress-free, we can cope with it in healthy ways.

Kelly Chin

Gets emotionally attached to fictional characters.

Published: 24 May 2023, 12:39 PM

It’s that time of the year again where the exam period dawns upon students. Some may be feeling the pressure of scoring well, or worrying about the upcoming paper’s difficulty. 

Even if you don’t have exams, you might still be stressed about meeting deadlines or upcoming assignments.

However, is experiencing stress bad all the time?

When someone experiences stress, their body goes into “fight or flight” – either bracing for impact or finding a way to escape the situation. According to Health Hub, stress differs from person to person, and it is not inherently “good” or “bad” for you.

While stress can make us feel slightly anxious or nervous, a healthy amount of stress could be an indicator of care about the task at hand. In these situations, it could help push someone to do their best and get the job done.

How to know when stress is beneficial

Stress in small amounts can be good for you as it helps you anticipate challenges and stay ready for upcoming tasks. Indicators of good stress can be feelings of excitement before a paper or presentation, motivation to complete a task, expressing interest in goals and getting extra energy to do your best. 

Although stress can be harnessed in positive ways, it can also affect you negatively when it becomes chronic or overwhelming.

Indicators of bad stress

Stress can occur due to surrounding environments such as crowds or family situations, unrealistic expectations of oneself, overwork or for survival. As any of these factors can occur in daily life, it is important to know when the stress you experience becomes overwhelming.

Experiencing high amounts of stress can result in feeling irritated or frustrated easily, forgetfulness, carelessness, poor appetite, lethargy and insomnia.


Physical signs of stress can also include muscle tension and headaches. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SHANI YONG


Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms

When stress gets too overwhelming, it can result in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive consumption of alcohol, abusing recreational drugs, smoking or vaping, binge eating and avoiding friends and family. 

Resorting to these coping mechanisms, while temporary distractions, could have long-term effects on health. However, there are ways to mitigate the effects of stress and ways to deal with it in a healthy way.

How to cope with bad stress

Since it is not possible to completely eliminate stress from daily life, it’s important to know how to deal with it in a healthy way. 

Making time for yourself

Making time for hobbies, activities you enjoy or spending time with people you love can help get rid of stress and help build a strong support system. Taking a short nap can also help re-energise you for the tasks ahead. 

Getting physically active

Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, also known as ‘happy hormones’ which can help get your mind off tasks. Getting up from your seat for a short 10-minute walk around your neighborhood can help relieve some stress.


According to Health Hub, taking a five minute walk after an hour of sitting can also reduce health risks like cardiovascular diseases. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NUR SHAZRIENA


Planning out time and activities

Creating a to-do-list and keeping a schedule for things that need to be done, as well as setting time for yourself can help reduce the stress in day to day activities.

Keep tasks small

If tasks are too big, divide them into smaller sub-tasks so that they are less intimidating, and therefore making the stress more manageable. 

Setting priorities

Make a list of tasks that need to be done, in order of importance. This will help keep you focused on your priorities for the day without being distracted by other less important tasks. 

If you or someone you know is resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms, you can access these helplines:

Samaritans of Singapore (24 hour) – Tel: 1-767, WhatsApp: 9151 1767

Singapore Association for Mental Health Helpline – Tel: 1800 283 7019

Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline (24-hour) – Tel: 6389 2222

Hear4U – WhatsApp: 6978 2728

Silver Ribbon Singapore – Tel: 6386 1928

You may like these