Ask a question

Why would a person would get sick from studying for a test? What are strategies that alieve testing sickness?

What would cause this? I understand that stress can cause one to get sick on test day or after test and am used to that, but have never experience this in studying for any other test included SAT,and PSATS. Does that mean there is a problem with the study strategy?


Stress is in the eyes of the beholder!

The term “Stress” has become this shapeless formless entity that everyone understands but few can define.

Physiologically stress is an internal or external stimulant that produces a measurable response within the body, positive or negative. It is what makes humans so wonderfully adaptive. Human biology and its subspecialties call this the “Fight or Flight reaction”. The adrenal glands (quarter sized) organs located at the upper poles of the kidneys (retroperitoneum of the abdomen). The adrenal glands are responsible for making several very important hormones one of which is GLUCOCORTICOID.

Several Glucocorticoids are produced but the one we are most familiar with is Cortisol.  Cortisol is produced unlike any other hormone within the body and it’s called the Circadian Rhythm. Cortisol levels peak twice, once at approximately 6 a.m. and again mid afternoon and corresponds to the need for maximum wakefulness amongst other functions.

Peak levels and nadir periods remain fairly constant under times of low physical and psychological challenge. However under times of extreme physical challenge or above average sustained challenge the Cortisol levels at nadir and peak levels increase. Psychological challenge is different as PERCEPTION is a key component. For example, I love dogs even a stray regardless of breed I am comfortable and as a child I was attacked twice by dogs. My wife on the other hand has never been attacked by a dog but she becomes hysterical when she encounters a dog, trained or not.

Brief elevations of Cortisol usually don’t cause problems but SUSTAINED increases in Cortisol will absolutely change the body’s physiology! Adrenaline (Epinephrine) levels (increased heart rate, dilated pupils and blood shunting from the GI system [stomach motility decreases-nausea] and Integument system [skin-cold clammy skin]) will follow elevated Cortisol. Sustained elevated Cortisol will impair the Immune system (decrease motility of phagocytes [neutrophils, macrophages, monocytes]) which lowers your resistance to respiratory infections (cold symptoms).

Those persons that have a global view of tests or testing that it’s nothing special despite of readiness to pass or fail don’t have changes in Cortisol level. The same is true for very psychologically reactive persons that are experienced and have a well rehearsed plan for tests no Cortisol level change occurs. But those who place high value on tests and have low confidence matched with low preparation are primed for poor sleep, irritability and.  .  .  The sniffles (please past the tissue)!

Strategies to avoid illness, first and foremost is TIME management. Those not accustom to strict adherence to time management will come across as arrogant or stuffy but the best time managers have it down to an art and are seen as the nicest people but wow really smart! Want people to see you as nice and smart, find a study group that seems to understand rigid time management and model after the smartest member that is well liked.

Within your time management plan schedule 15-30 minutes of intense aerobic exercise. Why? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but it’s about the physiology. Elevated Cortisol and adrenaline can only be fought by burning off the body’s adrenaline, EXERCISE. Now, lowered adrenaline calms your nerves and stabilizes your emotions, can you say bye-bye to anxiety, wave for me. Of course the equally valuable benefit of exercise and lowered Cortisol and adrenaline will be improved restful sleep.

Finally, if you are not a “Black belt” expert in study skills spend every free waking moment becoming one. How? We all forget that our teachers or professors had to master them, start there, but as it’s been mentioned in this blog your tutors and do forget your classmates that are killing the tests know the tricks.

“The divineness in me recognizes the divineness in you”

Good Luck
Very well said. I have one degree but I was recently very sick (surgery) and had to stay in bed. The pain was excruciating. It forced me to read articles online and find real information, facts not blabber. It got me interested in biology. So, now, a decade after my first degree I am considering going back for a second. I must say, as I study it's a completely different process. I am hardly nervous. It really is about time management. 

6 Answers by Expert Tutors

Tutors, sign in to answer this question.
William M. | Social Studies/History/SAT Reading and writing tutorSocial Studies/History/SAT Reading and w...

You maybe over studying.  Try studying for a half hour at a time and then taking either a half hour or hour rest.  Eventually, if focusing on the same topic for hours at a time you may burn out and not actually be able to retain anymore of the information.  Also, change up your study tactics.  If you are working alone, reading from a review book or internet, change up your study habits by working with a friend or playing an interactive SAT game online.

Lauren C. | English Professor Offering Help With Literature, Writing, and TestingEnglish Professor Offering Help With Lit...

Testing can cause a significant amount of anxiety. With pressure to do well, and an overwhelming amount of information to learn, it is no surprise that students often feel sick when there is a test looming. I suffered from test anxiety for a long time, but I have learned that the best solutions are simply:

1. Have a game plan. If you feel like you have a solid understanding of the material, your nerves will significantly lessen. That's where a tutor can really help! You can learn how to organize the information and how to best retain it so that it doesn't seem so overwhelming.

2. Get some rest. Lack of sleep plays a large factor in sickness and anxiety. Rest up before you study and you'll feel refreshed and ready to conquer! Plus, if you study right before you go to sleep, studies have shown that your brain will better retain the information (PLoS ONE).

3. Eat a healthy breakfast. Your body needs the right fuel in order to function properly. My favorite pre-study breakfast is some oatmeal sprinkled with fresh blueberries, one egg over easy, and a cup of peppermint tea. The protein will keep you full, and the peppermint tea will soothe a nervous stomach.

Lizzie M. | Patient and Accommodating Math Tutor and College StudentPatient and Accommodating Math Tutor and...
5.0 5.0 (52 lesson ratings) (52)

In my experience, there are two very common explanations for why a student would get sick before a major test

Option 1. The student is suffering from an anxiety attack that can stem from years of poor testing experiences or stressful testing situations. This can be treated with therapy, testing accommodations (private room and extra test taking time), or even mild medications can help calm those pre-final nerves.

Option 2. The student has studied so much that they've started neglecting their basic health by not sleeping, forgetting to eat all together, and developing unhealthy habits that they believe release stress which can put the immune system in harms way. This happens a lot during finals week, a student stops sleeping and eating then they get a cold during finals which for obvious reasons can be a major distraction.

If you don't find that you're getting sick then count yourself lucky! It doesn't mean that your study habits are flawed, it simply means you can handle the stress of a major exam better than the rest of us.

Krista B. | ADD/ADHD Experienced Tutor ADD/ADHD Experienced Tutor

There are a couple different things that can be going on. 

It could be that you are over stressing and it is just making you feel sick. This can happen in anticipation of a test coming up just like how some people feel sick before giving a speech or going on stage for a performance. 

It could be that you are too focused on studying. If you focus too much on studying, then you can lose sight of other things, such as eating or drinking regularly. Keep in mind that extensive studying uses more brain power than other activities. This means that your brain, which burns most of the calories you intake daily anyway, is working that much harder. Regular study breaks with snacks are essential for preparing for anything. You should also remember to stay hydrated! Try to stay away from highly caffeinated drinks because those will dehydrate you and make it more difficult to absorb the information.

If you try these things and it does not seem to help, you may want to look into learning or performance disorders. Things like ADD or testing anxiety can make it difficult to study. Testing anxiety can cause stress for weeks prior to an important test, but it can also cause panic attacks, painful muscle tension, and headaches.  If you are worried about this, try taking this inventory:

If your anxiety level is high, you may want to go and be tested by a psychologist or doctor, they may be able to help you with testing accommodations for tests and give you more specific strategies for dealing with your specific issues.

The best thing to do is to make sure that you take breaks between studying. Our brains don't process information well if you do not give it the time in between studying. It is essential for memory formation that you take breaks.   

Rana A. | Automotive Product Designer for Math, History, English TutoringAutomotive Product Designer for Math, Hi...

Sometimes when studying for a test we put too much emphasis on getting a passing grade or doing well on the test, so much so that studying becomes the challenge instead of the test itself. Try telling yourself that the study material is just a good read and you want to remember it so you can it to tell someone else, like your best friend. This may help you to calm down and absorb the material in a more relaxed way. Allot plenty of time for the study process. Use a specific time of day to study for a specific period of time which is like turning on a TV program, watching it uninterrupted for an hour, then critiquing it afterward. See? You're relaxed already ... feeling ok?

Holly G. | Excellent tutor for struggling studentExcellent tutor for struggling student
5.0 5.0 (6 lesson ratings) (6)

Stress is a physiological response- your body's way of saying, " I do not like this - stop!" When you force your body to take on stress for too long (even mild stress like an exam or moderate stress like finals week) it gets sick. Your body has stored too many "stress hormones". Is it also possible you have too much caffeine or sugar in your system? Not sleeping enough? Not being physically active? 

The first thing I am going to suggest is to walk through your house while you review. Get up and move. You need activity to burn off all the stress hormones in your system. Next - get 8 hours of sleep. Followed by a good diet -do not overload your diet with caffeine, sugar and, fat. Try to snack and do not miss meals right now. As another tutor pointed out - over-studying does not help. Take frequent breaks. Schedule free time to do what you love at least once a week. 

If you are trying to memorize huge chunks of information - pick a song that is a brain worm (gets stuck in your head and you cannot get it out of there) and sing the material to that song. I use Tom's Dinner. If you get stuck - hum the song. Do this until the material is lodged in your brain.

  Study in the grocery line, while doing laundry, etc. Also studying with friends helps.