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Managing HSC stress during COVID-19

The Higher School Certificate is nearing, and for many Year 12 students this can be a very stressful period of time, with a major component of this stress coming from internal (psychological) pressure. With studies having been interrupted this year due to the pandemic, stress management tips are vital for teenagers to reduce psychological distress.

Having to sit the HSC during the breakout of a pandemic is truly an unprecedented event that can add to any pre-existing stress. The effects of online learning, lockdown, social distancing can certainly take a toll on a student’s well-being. It’s important to remember that feeling stressed is an understandable and reasonable response to the current coronavirus pandemic.

You might be worried about things like you or your loved ones catching the virus, disruptions to your studies or other routines, financial stability, exam format and so forth. These stressors, along with the constant media hysteria and dealing with disappointment (holidays being cancelled, etc.), add up to a frustrating HSC experience. While stress can lead to increased productivity, too much stress can lead to poor exams and emotional well-being if not managed appropriately.

Below are some helpful tips for students, or for anyone who wants to support a HSC student throughout lockdown:

Boundaries around online learning

With most year 12 students used to spending six hours a day at school, maintaining a similar routine using the six hours should be used as a rough guide while studying at home. However, it is important to be wary of screen time as an excess amount can make your eyes sore and impact your ability to fall asleep at night. Be sure to break up your days and spend the time you would typically have recess and lunch outside or with family members.

Online group study

Although students are unable to physically sit together to study, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done online via Zoom, Google Meets, or other online platforms. However, the key to effective group study is structure. It can be easy to stray away from routine when you’re at home. Setting a short time aside for chit-chats and catch ups will help to increase study time and reduce the risk of unproductive learning. Ensure that everyone in the group sticks to the study plan. An example of a group study plan may look like the following:

  • First 10 minutes: catch ups!
  • 10 minutes: clarify subject/topic that the group/group members will be studying
  • 45-50 minutes: silent study
  • 5 minutes: stretch!
  • 10-15 minutes: each member asks questions to the group about the topic

Check in with yourself

Stress relating to exam preparation may already be overwhelming enough. Preparing for exams during a time with a lot of uncertainty and worry may interfere with your concentration to study. Having to deal with the unknown can make people feel anxious. Checking in with yourself and reflecting on your feelings may help with identifying what you need at the time. You may find it helpful to draw on skills that you have used in the past to cope with uncertainty. Your ‘toolbox’ of skills may include:

  • Practising self-care activities
  • Journalling things you’re grateful for
  • Getting out for some fresh air
  • Focusing on things within your control, and working with that
  • Practising positive self-talk
  • Phoning/video-chatting with a friend/loved one to check in
  • Allowing yourself to take a break from things bothering you (this might even include limiting social media or news that can be distressing)

Seek professional support when needed

Going through the HSC during these uncertain times can feel overwhelming, even if you have been practising your self-care skills. As most people will be physically distancing or self-isolating, seeking professional help through telehealth or face-to-face are both available options.

Consider speaking to your GP or reach out to our friendly psychologists at Mind Matters for extra help.

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