When exam stress becomes a matter of life and death: The effect of exams on student health and wellbeing

When exam stress becomes a matter of life and death: the effect of exams on student health and wellbeing.

When exam stress becomes a matter of life and death: The effect of exams on student health and wellbeing

Mention the word ‘exam’ and the word ‘stress’ almost automatically pops up to accompany it. As we know, stress in adults has a significant effect on their mental and physical health, not to mention stress in children. Are we putting our students’ health and wellbeing first, or in the drive for academic achievement, are we leaving self-care, loving relationships and a healthy body behind?

Do we foster an environment that shows students how to look after themselves and each other first and foremost? Without the consideration of health and wellbeing, students are operating way below their level of potential in life.

A healthy, rested and cared for body significantly improves self-esteem, vitality and also clarity of mind.

Instead of being a way of assisting both teacher and student to gauge what has been understood, exams are now often approached as a manic, competitive race, pitting student against student, and school against school – an approach which leaves many casualties in its wake.

Common catch-cries amongst students are:

"If I fail I am no good"
"I won't be loved if I don’t match up to expectations"
"I have to get a maximum score to be successful in life"
"I won’t be liked or loved if I don’t do well"

The effect of thoughts like these creates a mindset that sets students up for failure in their own eyes as they strive to please teachers and parents, and look good for their peers and society. They set up a mindset of stress and pressure for life.

Stress and pressure to perform and to ‘prove oneself’ manifests in conditions like nervous-system overload, adrenal exhaustion and ultimately depression and self-harm. In the UK figures show that in 2004, hospitals alone gave out 140,000 anti-depressant drugs to teenagers struggling in their final year of school.

Teen suicide has become a serious problem over the past four decades in many countries across the globe as the result of what is felt as intolerable pressure from education systems that operate solely on a results-driven agenda.

Gillian Calvert, Commissioner for Children and Young people in NSW,
writes in her revealing report on exam-related teen suicide rates[i]:
As a group these adolescent suicides were successful students with records indicating they set high standards for themselves and worked extremely hard ... the period leading up to their death was typically characterised by feelings of overwhelming pressure to succeed, coupled by an intense fear of failure.

The drive and pressure for ‘perfection’ has been cited as a major factor in adolescent suicides around final year exam time. This strict criterion for success is utterly subjective and allows a self-evaluation scale that is subject to another’s idea of perfection.

How can this ideal have validity if it leads to suffering and even suicide?

When we begin life, we just ‘are’. As we grow up we learn to push, try, and strive in order to become ‘someone worthwhile’ so that we can feel good about ourselves and get recognition and praise. In this bid to feel ‘better’ and ‘good enough’ we go into striving and driving and this in turn brings stress and pressure into our lives.

Thinking that what we do is never good enough, we continually move the goal posts, undermining our self worth and disregarding the amazing being that we already are.

Currently our society and education systems promote this effort-full way of life. Striving and non-stop busy-ness have become the normal way to be, the desired way to be. ‘Drive and achieve’ has become an acceptable mantra for many.

And to what end?

  • Do we as a society unquestioningly accept as normal or even desirable, an education system whose fundamental impetus is a drive for goals and ideals engendering stress and pressure in everyone?
  • Are we, teachers, students and parents alike, at some level saying ‘yes’ to this approach to education – to an approach that not only undermines the health and wellbeing of the physical body but the very fabric of who we are? How intelligent is that?
  • How intelligent is it to undermine the wellbeing of the very body that we inhabit and without which we cannot live in this world?

As students continue to flounder under exam stress and the pressure of academic achievement, we can no longer ignore the devastation it leaves on their health and wellbeing.

Imagine a truly intelligent education system that did not lead us into the ragged world of stress and ill-health but which was based on love, care and true relationship with mind, body, and all others.

This is a quality of education that is truly worth fostering.

"Make life about people first and the fact that we are sensitive and perceptive beings, then, and only then will the systems function without assaulting its participants."

Serge Benhayon An Open Letter To Humanity , p 279

60% Complete

Education above and beyond marks

What if education was about who we are first and not about obtaining the highest marks possible to please our parents?

Further readings:

Serge Benhayon on meditation

Beyond Depression – An Effortless Approach

Stress at work


  • [i]

    Calvert, G. 2003. New South Wales. Commission for Children and Young People. Suicide and risk-taking deaths of children and young people: report. Retrieved from

Filed under


  • By Lyndy Summerhaze, PhD, BA (1st class hons; University medal) Dip.Mus.Ed, Practitioner of Universal Medicine Therapies, EPA Recognised

    Lyndy loves truth, people, and great conversation. She works as a tutor in English Literature and is a practitioner of the healing arts.