Michelle Daymond, Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
23 October 2018
Exams. Even the word can spark stress and anxiety in both students and parents. For many it is the last-minute cramming that leads to feelings of panic, for others it is unrealistic expectations that fuel worries about not being good enough. Some students study so much they are at risk of burnout, while others find any excuse to procrastinate and so the work (and stress!) accumulate.
If you are approaching HSC exams, the next few weeks will be full of emotions including stress, anxiety and eventually, relief! And it’s not just students who experience these reactions – many parents are on this emotional rollercoaster too and struggle to cope.
Research shows that those who manage intense emotions are able to focus and perform better under exam conditions. More importantly, the ability to manage intense emotions and build resilience is a skill that you will use throughout life and is (dare I say it) likely to be one of the most useful things you learn throughout your HSC experience.
Top tips for surviving the HSC
1. Think Well
One of the most effective ways to manage stress (or any big emotion) is to notice how we talk to ourselves.
What thoughts go through your mind when you are feeling your strongest emotions? For example, common thought patterns when experiencing stress include “this is impossible”, “I’ll never get this done in time”, or “I’m definitely going to fail!”.
Step back from your thoughts and consider if they are really true, then replace them with something more accurate. For example, try replacing “this is impossible” with “this is a huge challenge for me, but I have done hard things before, and I can do it again”.
You will feel far more motivated, focused and positive about yourself and the situation if you start to change how you think. This is a very powerful tool that will serve you well long after your HSC is over!
2. Set Goals
Break your study goals into small hourly chunks and be realistic about what you can achieve each day.
Keep track of your progress. Some people find ticking items off from a list, or colouring squares on a graph every time they achieve a goal helpful.
Remember to give yourself mini rewards once you have achieved your study goals, so you have something to motivate you and look forward to. For example, watch an episode of your favourite show on Netflix (but just one!), or go for a walk.
3. Eat Well
It might sound simple, but it is important to look after your body to ensure you are functioning at your peak during exam time. This involves eating a well-balanced diet including plenty of fruit, vegetables, cereals, nuts and protein.
A well fuelled brain is what you need! Avoid junk food because it will give you a sudden burst of energy that will drop off quickly and leave you feeling tired.
Remember to make time to sleep – 8-10 hours of sleep per night is recommended for teens. While some find it tempting to study into the wee hours of the morning, a good night’s sleep is necessary to consolidate all that information into your memory.
Sleep can also improve your mood, concentration and academic performance. If you struggle to fall asleep try a guided meditation – check out the smiling mind app, it’s free and effective!
5. Move It!
Physical activity plays an important role in supporting essential mental functions. Also, the endorphins that the brain releases during exercise help to improve your mood, energy levels and even sleep.
Get into a habit of exercising regularly – remember you’re not training for the Olympics, so a gentle stroll to the local shops and back is enough.
If you’re lacking motivation, pump up the volume on your favourite tunes and treat it as a break all that hard work. You will be more productive following and feel much better for it.
6. Turn off Your Phone
Students who limit their social media and phone use are more effective at studying. Find what works for you – turn off your notifications, have a “phone free” study zone, or check social media only after completing set study goals.
7.Gather your Support Team
Remember that you don’t have to cope alone. Resilient people can recognise when they need help and are not afraid to reach out to others.
Who is in your support team? Think about your parents, other family members, friends, teachers, school counsellor, sporting coaches – anyone who you feel is supportive and on your side. These are the people you can turn to for support.
If you need more people on your support team feel free to get in touch with us at The Talbot Centre. Remember that there are also services you access like Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 and Beyond Blue www.youthbeyondblue.com.
Michelle is a compassionate, respectful and warm psychologist who has worked with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, and with a wide variety of age groups. Her relaxed but focused approach to therapy enables her clients to feel genuinely supported as they develop skills to achieve their goals. Michelle has a particular interest in supporting children and their families manage anxiety conditions. She enjoys creating a fun, creative and relaxing environment that allows children to feel at ease, and finds it rewarding to see them work hard to achieve their goals.