Five ways to helps reduce HSC stress

The senior years at high school are some of the most stressful times of your life. For many people, and from personal experience, Years 11 and 12 can be more stressful than tertiary and further education that follows school.

Why would this be?

Possible reasons include pressure from others and yourself to achieve the ATAR you desire, pressure to get into the university course you want, juggling study and assessments for many subjects, navigating friendships with their inevitable ups and downs, navigating relationships (also with their inevitable ups and downs), not to mention additional pressures from casual work, sport and family stressors! It’s little wonder you’re feeling the strain. 

There are some habits that can help to keep your mental and physical health in good shape. And there are some habits that can prove damaging to your mental and physical health. Most of us know which is which. We know which habits are health promoting and which habits are potentially damaging. However, it is often the less healthy habits that we succumb to at times of stress, often as a way of avoiding the hard stuff that comes up. 

A few really simple things that you can implement in your life can actually make quite a big difference in how you feel, emotionally and physically. Here are my top 5:

1. Sleep

Yep, I am sure your parents probably nag you about getting enough sleep and staying up too late. Maybe you feel you finally get time to unwind after doing all your homework or study and then spend a good part of the night watching back to back episodes of the latest series you’re into. Maybe it’s gaming that lures you in and captures you well into the early hours of the morning. Maybe it’s social media and endless scrolling? 

Whatever it is that pulls you away from sleep, it is important to realise for yourself how much better you perform with adequate sleep. It is the total hours of sleep and the quality that count. There’s a good reason why athletes focus so much on sleep for recovery; there’s so much science behind why it is good for you. 

See yourself as an athlete training for a big event and get the shut eye you need to be your best. 

2. Nutrition

Eating healthily with regular small snacks and adequate water is so important. To use the athlete analogy again, you wouldn’t expect an athlete to perform well on no fuel. Aim to eat three meals and snacks, including protein sources, fats and carbohydrates to fuel you. Your brain needs food to function well. Treat your body well and give it what it needs nutritionally and you’re likely to think more clearly, remember things better and find that you aren’t as tired. 

Water is such a simple fix for so many things. If you’re feeling especially tired, have headaches and a foggy brain, it could mean that you’re dehydrated. Try upping your water intake and see if this helps. Make sure you’re taking a 1L water bottle to school and aim to finish it whilst you’re at school. Relying on a few sips from the bubbler in an entire day at school just isn’t enough water. 

I am not a nutritionist or registered dietitian, so I strongly encourage you to speak to your GP about referral to one if you’re interested in personalised nutrition advice with an evidenced based framework (rather than googling advice from the latest celebrity influencer without credentials). 

3. Manage interruptions to your focus

This is a big one. Full disclosure, I am old and did my HSC before the internet existed! Back in the olden days, we did have distractions. Like arcade games on the ATARI and the landline phone ringing occasionally. Seriously though, young people today have it much tougher in my opinion when it comes to managing focus. It is really important to provide some boundaries around the information you allow in when you’re trying to focus. 

There is only so much bandwidth your brain can deal with.  When you’re trying to focus and study, having notifications on and your phone flashing constantly is not the greatest help. Think about the focus on your study as being equivalent to the focus a surgeon needs when he or she is operating. Or the focus a pilot needs to fly a plane. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb when you’re trying to focus and reduce the overwhelm.

4. Exercise

It is so important to move your body in a way that feels good to you and supports your wellbeing. It might mean going to the gym or it could be as simple as going for a walk, walking your dog, running, swimming, surfing, yoga or playing organised team sport. Whatever it is, make sure you’re doing it for you and it brings you joy. Create a routine around it and it can provide a great sense of stability and predictability which can be helpful when things feel overwhelming and out of control.

5. Seeking help from friends and family when you need it

If you feel you’re struggling with your mood, motivation, anxiety or overwhelm, please talk to someone. Often it can be difficult to really speak up to our friends and family about how we feel. Sometimes the barriers to speaking up might be not wanting to burden anyone, or having a self view that you are a battler and just need to get through it alone. Sometimes the barriers are simply that you know you don’t feel yourself but the feelings are so overwhelming and you can’t find the words to articulate it. Speak up and seek help. 

If you are in crisis, the following services are available: