Do you have a teenager at home going through the HSC this year? Or maybe a young adult studying at University or College?
HSC stress – it’s a reality for many Australian teengers. The adolescents of today will become part of one of the most educated generations in Australia’s history. While we hope that helpful, consistent messages are being sent to our young people, such as “Your best is good enough” and “The HSC is not the sole key to your future success,” we know that cultural, parental, educational, and individual factors can significantly influence the way a student thinks and feels about the HSC exams. Some students may have thoughts of worry or experience high levels of HSC stress which impact on their ability to study.
A small amount of anxiety may provide students with the motivation and energy needed to prepare and study for their exams, however if this anxiety morphs into excessive worry, insomnia, poor concentration, or persistent procrastination, then the anxiety has become unhelpful.
So what are the most common forms of distress, and how do you help manage them?
- Physical Symptoms – Such as nausea, racing heart, sweating, shaking. These arise due to the body’s fear response, creating a ‘fight or flight’ feeling. Engaging in calming activities (e.g. walking, listening to music) and thinking helpful thoughts can help alleviate these symptoms.
- Worry Thoughts – Such as “What if I fail?”, “What if I forget everything?”. These thoughts can make study seem overwhelming or impossible, leading to procrastination. Students should revise their study plan into smaller tasks, focusing on the present moment and not listen to thoughts of worry. This will turn the thinking brain back on.
- Negative self-beliefs – Such as “I can’t do this”, “I am stupid; my friends are smarter than me”. These thoughts often stem from past experiences or feeling down, and are incredibly unhelpful. Support from family, friends, or a professional is very important if a student finds themselves caught up in this cycle.
So how can you help your son or daughter through this tough time?
For most students, excessive HSC study stress can be prevented with the support of family, and implementing some simple, effective tactics:
- Eat healthy snacks and stay hydrated – Our brain uses a lot of energy when studying, so it is important to have healthy snacks available to munch on and water for hydration. Research indicates that the average brain can study effectively for approximately 45 minutes at a time.
- Continue Social and Physical Activities – As much as possible, students social and physical activities should continue during exam periods, as this gives their brain a break from study.
- Create a study plan: Creating a study plan that incorporates at least a 5 minute break in between study periods is ideal. When uncertain, anxiety can take over an adolescent’s life. Creating a comprehensive study plan can help ease worry thoughts, such as “What if I don’t have enough time to get through each subject?”
Create a study plan – Tips to help with HSC stress:
- Break down each unit into topics, allocating time to each one
- Make summary notes
- Read and listen to each summary, creating mind maps, writing practice questions to test yourself later, and discussing concepts with your peers or family may be included in your study plan.
- Include regular breaks and meal times
- Helpful thoughts: It can be helpful for the student to write down a few helpful, realistic thoughts and place these on their desk as prompts to remind their brain to be supportive during this time. Whilst motivational statements work well for some students, others benefit from thinking realistically in terms of the ‘most likely’ scenario and developing a back-up plan in the event that things don’t go well.
If your son, daughter, or a loved one requires some help with strategies or support in managing their study or HSC stress, Creating Change’s resident Clinical Psychologist Dr Bianca Heng is available to assist you through this tough time.