With the rollercoaster ride that is the HSC, your mental health may not always be the first thing that you prioritise. It’s essential to understand that you aren’t alone when it comes to stress and anxiety during the HSC, and there are ways to deal!
That’s why we’ve put together this nifty guide, so that you can better manage your mental health, or even just improve your sleeping habits.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
Part 1: Managing Stress
Why does stress happen? Can it actually be good for you?
There is such a thing as a “good amount of stress”, but it’s important that we know why we get stressed in the first place, so we know how to manage it.
What happens when you feel stressed?
It’s common to feel stressed right before an HSC exam, and your body will release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which in effect cause short-term physical changes.
You might feel your heart rate increase, as it pumps more blood into your major muscles, and your breathing can increase too, sending more oxygen around your body. But remember, these aren’t necessarily bad.
This bell curve explains the different levels of stress we can experience and their effects:
As we can see, stress becomes an issue when it’s hard to manage and you find yourself unable to perform everyday tasks.
But when stress is manageable, there are a number of ways you can cope — especially when you’re about to sit an exam. You can learn about these tips in the guide below!
Tips for Handling Stress Throughout Your HSC Experience
Stress doesn’t just happen when you’re about to sit an exam. For the HSC in general, there can be times when you feel overwhelmed.
Again, there are various ways you can learn to manage and we’re here to share our advice!
Tip #1: Create a schedule and stick to it!
While it might not be realistic to have the same plan for everyday, you can create a plan at the start of each week and do your best to follow it.
This will help you to improve your time management and give you some sort of structure that allows for an adequate work-life balance!
Factors you’ll need to account for include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Doing the right level of study
- Spending time with friends and family
- Regular hobbies/commitments
- Having time for yourself
Tip #2: Exercise regularly
Exercise is one of the ultimate stress relievers, and is a great way for you to prioritise your mental health during the HSC.
In fact, engaging in physical activity releases endorphins (also known as a ‘happy hormone’)!
Figure out what type of exercise works best for you, whether that’s joining a gym or being part of a sports team. Maybe you’d rather go on walks, workout at home or do some yoga.
Whatever it is you prefer, make that your go-to form of physical activity so that you can relieve some stress!
Tip #3: Maintain a good social life
While it’s great to be studying a lot in preparation for the HSC, remember not to stay cooped up in your room for too long! Making time to socialise with friends and family is just as important too.
Simply having a chat or a catching up with friends is a way for you to take your mind off things and remind yourself that it’s okay to take a break from studying.
Tip #4: Find some easy hobbies
Now by encouraging you to try a new hobby, we don’t mean to place more pressure on yourself! The point of finding an easy hobby to do is to let you focus on things other than your school work and giving yourself an outlet.
Maybe you’d like to get into sewing or there’s an instrument you’ve been wanting to learn. Perhaps there are a bunch of books you’ve been wanting to read, but you just haven’t gotten around to doing so!
Whichever hobby you’d like to do, make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy and find rewarding.
If you’d like to learn more about these tips to dealing with stress throughout the HSC, you can check out the article below!
When things get tough and life has thrown many negative experiences your way, it’s good to know that you can bounce back! We show you how in this video:
How Mindfulness Can Reduce Your Stress and Anxiety During the HSC
The main purpose of mindfulness is for you to feel fully aware in the present moment, while enabling your thoughts and feelings to flow without any distractions or judgement.
When practising mindfulness, there are three key principles that underpin mindfulness activity:
- Intention to instil awareness and repeat it
- Attention to the present moment by letting your thoughts, emotions and feelings arise
- Attitude that lacks judgement, is open-minded and kind
The primary ways that mindfulness works is by:
- Regulating and processing your emotions
- Building and utilising healthier coping strategies
- Increasing focus on school assignments and exams
- Listening to what your body needs
- Transforming your attitude towards stress
To discover how you can implement mindfulness in your life as you go through the HSC, you can take a look at our article below!
Now that you have a better understanding of dealing with stress during the HSC, let’s dive into methods for coping with anxiety.
Part 2: Coping with Anxiety
Is anxiety making it difficult for you to study for your HSC? There are a number of signs to look out for if anxiety is affecting your schooling.
Signs That Anxiety May Be Affecting Your HSC Study
#1: Silent overachieving
There are students out there who are great at achieving academically, but when it comes to their mental health, they may be dealing with a lot of anxiety.
While they may still do well in the HSC, their social and mental states may not be as optimal, and if they are continually feeling anxious without expressing it, this can have long-term consequences on their mental health.
#2: Changes in sleep
If you find that your sleeping pattern has become irregular, this may be a symptom of anxiety.
Those dealing with anxiety may also experience higher sleep reactivity, which means that if your body is stress, it can be difficult for you to sleep properly throughout the night.
Not getting as much sleep can also mean that your circadian rhythm is getting disrupted, which can lead to entering less phases of REM (deep sleep). Basically, you’ll be feeling tired a lot.
For those who find themselves procrastinating a lot, they most likely do recognise how much work they need to get done, but they feel overwhelmed so they just don’t do the work right away. They end up leaving things until the last minute.
The thing with procrastination is that students with anxiety feel that delaying the task can provide them with a sense of relief.
By avoiding the work they need to do, they are trying to avoid negative experiences.
#4: Increase in mood swings
If you are experiencing a lot of anxiety, there’s a chance that your hormone balance and neurotransmitter production will change. This change can cause mood swings, since the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine differs from the norm.
Additionally, it’s no surprise that feeling anxious is draining, and it can be hard to regulate your emotions when you feel worn out.
#5: Changes in diet
When you experience anxiety, your body’s response can go either one of two ways: you eat less than usual or eat more to cope.
Eating less than usual can be caused by feeling like you aren’t able to stomach a lot of food. But when you feel like eating more, it’s often a way to feel comfortable or satisfied.
Do you find yourself identifying with one or more of these signs? For a more detailed guide and advice from an expert on what to do if you experience these symptoms of anxiety during the HSC, have a read of the article below!
How to Handle HSC Exam Anxiety
Exams can be daunting and there’ll always be some sort of pressure that you feel when you’re preparing to sit one.
As we’ve stressed from the start, during the HSC your mental health should be a priority.
To help ease some of the anxiety that you may be feeling towards exams, we’ve got a few tips to share with you.
Tip #1: Explore different ways to relax
Did you know that if you aren’t feeling relaxed, you may struggle to absorb information?
Taking some time away from study (once you’ve done a substantial amount) can be good for you! A break can help you feel refreshed and get back to work with a much healthier mindset.
A simple drink of water or some breathing activities can be all it takes to getting you to a calm state of mind.
Tip #2: Planning a schedule
Like we’ve mentioned with managing stress, having a routine is beneficial! When you’ve got a routine, there’s more predictability as you know what you expect of yourself and you can feel a sense of achievement when you get through your daily activities.
You’ll feel more motivated through the sense of accomplishment you get from doing the tasks you’ve set out to do in your routine!
Tip #3: Keep up with your sports/hobbies
Your sports/hobbies tend to be the activities that you’re passionate about — why should you give them up during a stressful time like the HSC?
It may feel like the HSC should be your only focus, but that’s not the case at all! Having sports/hobbies to turn to can give you those much needed mental breaks, give you the chance to socialise and time to refresh.
These activities are just another outlet for you to relieve some of the anxiety you may be feeling towards the HSC.
Need more convincing? Check out this video to find out why quitting extracurricular activities isn’t the answer!
If you’d like to learn more about these tips (or a few others) for handling exam anxiety, you can have a peep at the guide below!
What should you do if you get a panic attack during an exam?
If you’ve never experienced a panic attack, it may be hard to know what it feels like when it happens. But to give you an idea, if you feel at least four of the following symptoms, you are most likely experiencing one:
- Accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal stress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady or light hearted
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feelings of unreality
What you need to also remember if you are having a panic attack is they do not last long and they aren’t life threatening.
How do you stop a panic attack during an exam?
It’s a little hard to prevent a panic attack from happening, but there are things you can do stop it once it’s started, or at least cope with the situation.
Should this happen to you while you are in an exam, it’s up to you if you stay in your seat or need to excuse yourself from the room when you feel the wave of the panic attack. Don’t worry about what other students might think, just do what you feel is best for you!
There are three things you can do to deal with a panic attack:
#1: Be aware
Recognise the signs and identify that you are going through an anxiety attack and remember that it will pass — you are okay.
#2: Breathe slowly
Regardless of how difficult it might seem, try to take big slow and deep breaths. Focus on your breathing and in the meantime, let go of the thoughts that may be causing your anxiety.
#3: Be present
Use some grounding techniques to be in the present moment such as the “5-4-3-2-1” method or muscle relaxation.
Want to learn more about panic attacks in-depth and what you should do after you’ve experienced one? Have a read of the article below.
We’ve walked you through the different ways to deal with anxiety during the HSC. Now let’s talk about your mental health and depression.
Part 3: Dealing with Depression
Depression is a mental illness that over 265 million people globally deal with. It tends to be characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of regular function.
If you see yourself or someone you know not enjoying activities that usually bring about a sense of joy or fulfilment, this may be a symptom of depression.
This mental health issue can also be identified by a changed attitude towards the HSC or your school work. You might find homework harder than it used to be, or just feel demotivated to prioritise your study.
These are some signs you should look out for if you or a friend might be going through depression.
Signs of Depression
#1: Withdrawal and isolation
Withdrawal occurs when someone isolates themselves from their friends, family, school, study and activities that they would normally find fun.
A person who is going through a phase of withdrawal may cut off relationships, find it hard to complete tasks, and not desire to interact with anyone.
#2: Sadness and irritability
Even though depression is typically distinguished by extreme sadness, feeling easily irritated is also a sign to be identified by. However, feelings of irritability tend to be overlooked.
#3: Destructive thoughts
Having destructive thoughts and a negative outlook on life are generally the most well known signs of depression.
It can be a little bit tricky in these circumstances as destructive thoughts are still quite stigmatised, but even when it feels like no one will understand, it’s so important to seek help from a professional or GP.
#4: Inability to perform everyday tasks
Someone with depression may have no desire to get out of bed, struggle to get ready or just lack the ability to perform tasks that they are normally able to handle.
Being depressed can also have an effect on school work. If your grades are dropping because you feel like it’s hard to make the HSC a priority, talk to your teachers.
Again, your mental health throughout the HSC is important to look after.
If you’d like to develop your understanding of depression and read some advice from an expert, check out this detailed article!
Tackling Post-Exam Depression
Post-Exam Depression, otherwise known as ‘PED’ is a serious issue that numerous Year 12 students may find themselves facing.
Having high expectations of yourself and then falling short can really take a toll on your mental health during the HSC. But there are ways to deal with PED, and we’ll show you how.
Step #1: Have and keep realistic expectations
Yes it’s okay to dream big and want to achieve high marks and whatnot, but if your goals are unrealistic, you’ll only find yourself disappointed, and this can lead to post-exam depression.
It’s alright if you have to lower your expectations — removing some pressure from yourself means that you can redirect your energy towards actually achieving your goals than just dwelling on them.
Step #2: Let it out!
If you’re feeling down about your marks or how you went in an exam, let those feelings out!
Write how you’re feeling, paint, scream — do whatever it is you need to do to express yourself. Keeping it all in isn’t very productive, so let it out and sooner or later, you’ll feel better.
Step #3: Review how you study
How do you go about reviewing for exams or assessments?
Are you answering past papers, getting feedback from your teachers, and doing your best to improve?
Or are you just writing and rewriting notes, or going on TikTok or Instagram every few minutes?
Answer these questions seriously, and then have a look at your marks.
Studying is not just regurgitating notes or knowing your essays inside and out — it’s about exploring a subject, analysing it and then applying what you’ve learnt!
Step #4: Start planning for Plan B
Who said that you need to take the guaranteed ATAR pathway into your dream course?
There’s always another way to get into your course. Even if it means starting a degree at a different university, or transferring from a different degree, you can still find a way.
Remind yourself that working towards your dream degree shouldn’t have to come at a cost to your mental health during the HSC.
For a more in-depth guide on post-exam depression, check out the article below!
You’ve now learnt some more about dealing with depression, as a mental health issue during the HSC. We’ll now be getting into the importance of sleep and how you can maintain a healthier sleep routine!
Part 4: Improving Sleeping Habits
What time do you usually go to bed every night? We’ll just go ahead and say it — if you aren’t sleeping at least 8 hours every night, then you’re depriving your body of the rest it truly needs.
But not to worry, by the end of this section, you’ll know how to develop a healthy sleep routine!
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
#1: Feeling all sorts of emotions
If you aren’t sleeping enough, this can have an effect on your mood, and you may be feeling more emotional than usual.
A lack of sleep also affects your emotional intelligence, meaning that it can be harder to cope with stress, empathise with others, and you may feel less self-aware emotionally.
#2: Feeling sluggish and dozing off
You may feel disoriented or confused if you wake up sluggish if you aren’t getting enough sleep. You could even be falling asleep in class.
When you’re feeling sluggish, you might accidentally fall asleep for really short periods of time, and not even realise that you’re asleep. These are known as micro-sleeps and can impact your ability to concentrate.
Poor sleep can lead to an inability to concentrate, which in turn affects your attention span, lessens your ability to learn, and makes it harder for you to retain new information.
There are other signs you should look out for and why these things happen when you don’t get enough sleep, which you can discover in the article below!
How Your Lack of Sleep Can Affect Your Study and Schooling
#1: Ineffective memory consolidation
REM sleep, as we’ve mentioned before, is really important! It’s what helps you to consolidate memory and everything you’ve learnt into your long term memory.
If you aren’t getting enough REM sleep, this will affect your ability to learn.
#2: Reduced creativity
Being sleep deprived can lessen your ability to think creatively. In order to refresh your mind and start pumping out innovative ideas, you’ll need a good night of sleep!
#3: Communication with others
Not enough sleep can have an impact on the way you interact with others. You could be feeling tired or cranky, and when you’re in a mood, you’re probably less aware of how your words may come across.
If you’ve like to learn more about these consequences of sleep and others, head to our article below!
Maintaining a Healthy Sleep Routine During the HSC
Tip #1: Have consistent sleep and wake times
We can’t stress this enough, but routine is important! When you go to bed at a consistent time, your body can get the right amount of melatonin at the right times.
Also, by waking up around the same time everyday and exposing your body to sunlight, this can help your brain feel more alert and refreshed.
Routine just affirms your body’s circadian rhythm, which allows you to have more energy throughout the day!
Tip #2: Carve out a night routine
Help your body realise that it’s time to chill and go to sleep. An hour before you’re about to sleep, you should be done eating, put away your phone, and not do anything that might be super stimulating.
This is time for you to relax, so that you can feel rested when it’s time for you to actually fall asleep.
Tip #3: Don’t work from your bed
As tempting as it is to work in a comfy environment, like your bed, this can confuse your brain! When you use your bed for both work and relaxation, your brain will have a hard time distinguishing what your body’s up to.
As a result, working from your bed can decrease the melatonin levels you produce when you’re about to go to sleep.
We’ve got more advice and info for you on sleeping well during the HSC in our guide below!
Ready to implement better sleeping habits for optimal mental health during the HSC? Good! Now we’ll take you through some of the mental health support services you can access if you ever need help.
Part 5: Resources
Dealing with anxiety, stress or depression throughout the HSC can make things feel overwhelming. But you are never alone, and there is support you can seek when you’re feeling ready to tackle these issues!
Here are some organisations you can reach out to in times of need:
|Lifeline||Phone: 13 11 14
Text: 0477 13 11 14
|BeyondBlue||Phone: 1300 22 4636
|headspace||Visit their website here|
|Kids Helpline||Phone: 1800 55 1800
|Reachout Australia||Visit their website here|
You can learn more about these organisations and the support services they offer in our article below.
And that wraps up our definitive guide to managing HSC stress and anxiety! Never forget the importance of your mental health throughout the HSC and that your issues aren’t insignificant — there’s always someone who can help.
Are you looking for some extra help to minimise stress and anxiety during the HSC?
We have an incredible team of HSC tutors and mentors!
We can help you master your HSC subject and ace your upcoming HSC assessments with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby or the Hills!
We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!
To find out more and get started with an inspirational HSC tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!
Reina Caballero is currently the Digital Content Manager at Art of Smart. She completed a Bachelor of Marketing and Media at Macquarie University at the end of 2019 and has written for a variety of magazine publications, such as MANIA, TV Soap, Soap World and Grapeshot. When she isn’t busy publishing articles on the AoS website, she’s working through 1000-piece puzzles, memorising TikTok sounds and making plans with friends.