If you’re one of Australia’s 180,000 Year 12 students, you might feel like you’re in the middle of a storm. And while we know the storm is nearly over, things can still seem pretty hairy.

Not only are you doing your final exams and thinking about your future, this year we’ve had the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, stress is at an all-time high.

We caught up with provisional psychologist Frances Stutterd for some of the most surprising and insightful tips we’ve heard yet, to help you deal with your Year 12, and your future.

1. Use the stress, don’t let the stress use you

“A certain amount of stress is actually very useful,” says Frances.

Wait, what?

“Stress motivates us to get out of bed and drives us to revise for exams because we want to do well. It shifts us into action. But when too much adrenaline and negative thoughts creep in, it’s counter-productive. When anxiety gets too high, your performance levels, focus and concentration drop.”

The key is not to let it to get to this point.

“If we think of stress as a glass of water, when you first hold it up, it feels fine. But the longer you hold it, the heavier it gets. After an hour your arm is paralysed. It’s impossible to cope. Like stress, if you don’t let go of it or move it around, it can weigh you down.”

2. Your super power: super sleep hygiene

Never underestimate the power of good quality sleep. Also known as sleep hygiene, this practice develops regular sleep habits. Better sleep can help you concentrate and improve results, lift your mood, and achieve better overall health.

Melatonin is the chemical in your brain that helps you fall asleep and stay there. The artificial blue light from your phone suppresses melatonin and your brain can become overstimulated. Frances advises that rather than scrolling your phone, try calming music. And cut the caffeine and sugar from the afternoon.

“If you still can’t switch off your thoughts at night, it’s always a good idea to talk with friends and family or your GP, and try practicing mindfulness,” she says.

Grab your slippers and blanket and start a healthy sleep routine!

3. Drop the screen at break time

In 2020 we’ve relied heavily on technology, but it’s made for an artificial way of living. Online meetings and classes cause fatigue, so it’s important that when you do take those crucial breaks, to also take a break from screens.

Physical activity is important too but if you don’t love exercise, that’s fine – just be mindful of the types of breaks you are taking.

“We’re lucky to have the internet to keep us together, but Zoom gloom hits hard!” says Frances. “It might seem relaxing to use your break to scroll the socials or YouTube – but it’s better to feel the world in 3D. Sit outside, give your eyes a break and let all your senses take in the world around you.”

Take breaks as often as you can, ditch those screens and just chill.

4. Focus ahead – never back, or sideways!

After each exam is over, try and decompress. Treat yourself to something really different from your studies. Do something that makes you happy – remember, laughter is a natural stress reliever.

Frances says it’s important to look forward and focus on your own accomplishments and goals.

“Once an exam is done, there’s nothing more you can do. Feel proud you got through and don’t dwell on what might have been. Sportspeople have a great approach to this. Tennis players, for example, take a bad shot and leave that in the past because they know that low self-esteem can compromise their next shot.”

It's also unhelpful to compare yourself to others. Encourage your mates to do well and be inspired by them, but be careful not to pit yourself against them. All we can aim to be is the best version of ourselves. We all have different talents, strengths and weaknesses.

"When the results come out, remember: your ATAR doesn’t define you. If your score is unexpected, it can create opportunities – to change your preference or rethink your options. You can consider course pathways to your dream course that end up taking no longer than the original plan," says Frances.

5. Talk (and listen) to friends

Year 12 is notoriously stressful – and this year COVID has driven us away from the classroom and face-to-face interactions with friends. But as humans, we’re social beings. So if you’re feeling out of sorts – that’s natural. But as the old saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, so it's important to have someone to talk to.

While you’re going through your own stuff, you might have noticed your friends are struggling too.

"If you feel concerned about someone, you can start a conversation. A great opening is to offer your feelings first, for example: 'I’m feeling a bit stressed, how about you?'”

Find out more

If you feel your stress levels are getting too high, or you’re worried about a friend, reach out and speak to a trained professional. Here are some great resources:

VU Psychology Clinic

The VU Psychology Clinic is a free service open to the public, with no referral required. Provisional postgraduate psychologists offer counselling (under supervision) if you need someone to talk to, extra support or strategies to help. We are currently running telehealth appointments.

About the expert

Frances Stutterd is a provisional psychologist with Victoria University, working at the VU Psychology Clinic. She has extensive experience as a telephone supporter for Lifeline Australia and Sands Australia (miscarriage and infant loss support). Frances is not only an experienced counsellor, she is a parent in-the-know – surviving VCE stress with her own two children.

Discover all your options for 2021

Book a 1:1 chat with a course adviser and discover all your study options and course pathways; and register for our Change of Preference virtual event. Discover why the VU Block Model is the "less-stress, more success" approach.

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Strategies to reduce anxiety when you're in an exam