With many schools finishing their mocks or getting their results back, how do those exams affect the mental health of students taking them? 


Stress affects the brain and the body in various different ways. Prolonged and chronic stress can affect all parts of the body even changing the size of your brain, the structure of your brain and the brain functions. Stress begins at the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis)  which is a series of reactions between the endocrine glands in the brain and on the kidneys, these control the body’s reaction to stress. When a stressful situation is detected the HPA axis immediately begins working releasing a hormone called cortisol preparing your body for action  but having high levels of cortisol over a long period of time can cause problems in the brain, for example chronic stress can  increase the activity level in the area of your brain called the amygdala the fear centre of the brain, and as levels of cortisol increase the electric signals in the hippocampus, the learning, memory and stress control of your brain deteriorate. The hippocampus also controls the HPA axis so when the hippocampus weakens the ability to control stress also weakens. Cortisol can also cause the brain to shrink in size, too much cortisol can cause the loss of connections between neurons and the shrinking of the front of the prefrontal cortex that regulates behaviours like concentration, judgement and social interactions. It can also lead to less brain cells being made in the hippocampus meaning chronic stress can make it harder for you to learn and remember things, leading to other serious mental health problems like depression and even Alzheimer’s.There are ways to combat stress with things like meditations and exercise proving most effective, both of these activities decrease stress and increase the size of the hippocampus improving memory.


So how does this affect students, I asked a few to see how exams had affected their daily life and their mental health;


“They’ve caused my anxiety to get worse” Says Owen aged 15


“The exams definitely made my mental health worse for a while,” Says Krystal, 14


“Especiallywith the mocks there were so many exams in such a short period of time that not everyone may have been able to do their best as having two exams in one day almost back to back is tiring and then not having any is even more exhausting as your body as time to relax before having to go into stress mode.” Says Maddie aged 15