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Coping with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression During the HSC

In this post, we give you some advice and resources to help you stay calm through High-School.

High School is stressful! Years 11 and 12 are especially stressful with the added pressures and consequences of Stage 6 and the HSC. In this post we’re going to look at something different, we’ll discuss some strategies for coping with stress, anxiety, and depression during the HSC.

This post isn’t purely for Year 11 and 12 students. We’ve put together the information and links to resources here to help all students stay healthy and happy throughout their journey through High School.

What’s Mental Health, Really?

When we talk about “mental health,” we mean psychological well-being.

You’ve probably been told to look after yourself – eat well, sleep plenty, and exercise regularly to stay healthy. We often associate our health with the idea of being fit or avoiding a seasonal cold or flu. But often psychological and emotional health gets forgotten or ignored.

But mental health is equally important.

If we’re not in a state of psychological wellness, then our productivity and relationships suffer. If we’re stressed, anxious, or depressed then we can’t contribute to our communities or realise our own potential. If we’re in poor psychological health our marks suffer. This can lead to a negative cycle.

In High School, there’s often a big focus on academic success, sporting participation and excellence, and extracurricular activities. This can leave you feeling like your balancing too many things at once.

If you’re struggling to balance these competing school demands with other things in your life, you can often feel like things are spinning out of control. Sometimes it can feel like struggling to do well in one thing can feel like we’re failing at all things.

Let’s be honest, there are lots of external pressures on you in High School – parents and relatives want to see you perform well, your coaches will want to see your team succeed, and then there are the pressures you might feel from social groups and interactions.

It can leave you feeling like everyone is trying to squeeze something out of you.

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The HSC year can compound these issues because of the inordinate level of importance society places on the final exam and ATAR.

In this high-pressure environment, it’s easy to get caught up in training, studying, practising, and socialising and forget about looking after our own mental well-being.

Then we may feel like things start falling apart when one or two things go wrong. We can start stressing, becoming anxious, or getting depressed.

In this post, we’re going to have a look at some of the very common issues – stress, anxiety, depression – that students face and provide you with some tips and resources to help you cope.

 

What’s Stress and How Do I Cope With it?

 

Stress is the physical response your body has when you feel that you have more being asked of you than you can reasonably provide.

As a consequence of these pressures, our body releases a complex mix of hormones and other compounds, such as adrenaline.

Stress can make you feel tense, anxious, sweaty, irritable, and tired. When stressed some people become withdrawn, others might become clumsy, while others will undergo drastic changes of weight. Almost everyone becomes short-tempered when they are stressed.

Stress isn’t a bad thing, it’s important that our bodies respond to environmental conditions with stress responses. Such things have helped humanity survive for thousands of years. But facing down a sabre-tooth tiger and deciding on a fight or flight response is very different from dealing with the often unseen pressures of High School and contemporary life.

When we’re face-to-face with a giant furry predator a hefty dose of adrenaline is a good thing, it helps us decide whether to run or fight and then follow through with the running.

But the downside of a lot of these chemicals is that they limit our capacity to think clearly.

So, when you’re sitting at a desk trying to solve that quadratic equation or write that difficult essay, a dose of adrenaline is going to make it hard for you to focus and think.

When we’re stressed and can’t think, we stress more about not getting things done – it becomes a nasty cycle!

Stress is an inevitable thing, but it’s important that you learn to recognise it and know how to deal with it.

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1. How do I tell if I’m stressed?

 

There are some common signs that people show when they are stressed. Some are emotional, some are physical, others are behavioural, and some are cognitive.

Let’s have a look at a few of them:

Physical

  • You may start feeling indigestion as if your food hasn’t gone down correctly
  • Some people develop rashes or have flare-ups of eczema and other skin complaints
  • You may feel a tightness in your chest
  • Or maybe your heart starts racing whenever you are confronted with a new task

Intellectual

  • You may find yourself becoming forgetful
  • You may start making irrational or hasty decisions that are out of character
  • Otherwise confident individuals begin doubting their abilities
  • You might find yourself doing many things at once, but finishing and achieving little
  • Or perhaps you’re finding it difficult concentrating on what people are saying or tasks they are meant to be doing

Emotional

  • When stressed you may become moody and irritable
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed or frustrated are common signs of stress
  • You may feel down if you are constantly stressed

Behavioural

  • You may find yourself sleeping poorly
  • Or losing your appetite
  • Do you find yourself drinking more coffee or energy drinks?
  • Sometimes stress causes us to lose motivation 
  • You might find yourself craving alone time or be isolating yourself from others in an unusual way

2. What do I do if I feel this way?

 

The first step is to talk to somebody.

Talking to others allows us to get things off our chest and explore why we’re feeling the way we do. If you are feeling stressed you should talk about this with:

  • A friend
  • A teacher
  • A Family member, or
  • A Counsellor
  • Or make use of online help services like KidsHelpLine and ReachOut

Talking will help you identify what’s really stressing you out and how to cope with the stress. If you’re not comfortable expressing your feelings, you should read this article that might change your mind.

If you are unsure of how to go about talking to people, ReachOut has this handy article and infographic to get you started:

Blog managing stress 5 steps to talking to someone you trust

 

3. Don’t be afraid to take a step back from things

Sometimes, when we’re deep in the middle of something – be it study, work, or a stressful relationship – we can find it very hard to get a sense of the big picture.

Have you ever felt that something was so overwhelming that you couldn’t see how you’d ever survive it, only to get past it and look back on it and think, “why was I so stressed over that?”

This happens because we can’t get a view of the bigger picture when we’re concerned with the minutiae of things.

If you can force yourself to put something to one side for a few hours or a couple of days, you will often come back to it with a new perspective where you can see better how it fits into your priorities or how difficult the task actually is. Treating stressful projects in this manner makes them easier to deal with.

 

4. Take a break

Stress happens because we work hard and push ourselves. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is often best to take a break from things and rest rather than pushing through.

You will be surprised how much more productive you will become if you are calm and rested rather than tired and hyped up. Remember, stress releases all sorts of hormones and chemicals into your body that will get you edgy and alert, but limit your cognitive processes.

Adrenaline may make you feel like you’re being super productive, but when you look back at that work later you’ll discover that it isn’t as thorough, detailed, or comprehensive as what you thought.

If you are starting to question your productivity and stress levels, then that’s the sign you need to take some time out.

So, how should you take a break?

  • Have a nap
  • Eat some food
  • Go for a walk
  • Hang out with some mates
  • Read a book

What shouldn’t you do when having a break?

  • Trawl social media
  • Binge a season of Attack on Titan on Netflix
  • Spend five hours playing Fortnite

When you relax you want to make sure that you take stressors out of your environment. Excessive amounts of screen time will not relieve you. Fortnite and other games may feel like they’re destressing you, but really they’re just introducing an additional, albeit different, stress into your life.

Similarly, while one episode of your fave show isn’t a bad thing, a full-season is liable to make you procrastinate and then stress and feel guilty about not studying for that maths exam.

Getting regular sleep and exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and focusing on staying calm are the best vaccines against overt stress.

Unfortunately, you’re going to feel stressed during high school. Learning how to recognise the signs of stress and then have management strategies is an essential means of dealing with stress.

 

5. Practise Mindfulness

An excellent way of combatting stress is mindfulness. mindfulness is a form of meditation where you draw your attention to things that are happening to you in the present moment.

Mindfulness is a reflective practice that involves specific exercises designed to help you address issues and problems in your life and then overcome them.

When you practise mindfulness, you are in a relaxed state. This makes it easier to deal with and face difficult or stressful situations.

Here are some resources that will help you learn more about mindfulness and begin practising it:

 

6. Organise yourself and your study

Having a consistent routine and regular study plan will help alleviate pressure and stress.

When we’re not organised, it’s very easy for things to get away from us. This is particularly true when you’re juggling school subjects, family, sport, and extra-curricular activities and maybe a weekend job. Having a timetable and study plan and sticking to it will help you stay on top of things.

If you’re not sure how to go about planning your life, you should read this post on How to Create a Study Plan that Works by Matrix Founder DJ Kim.

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Anxiety

Sometimes stress and pressure can get really full-on.

When stress becomes overwhelming or incessant, sometimes our bodies have a strong physical and mental response.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Interrupted sleep or difficulty sleeping
  • Catastrophising – thinking about how all the bad things can pile up on one another
  • Difficulty remaining calm
  • Increased irritability – as if people around you keep doing things that annoy you
  • A feeling of panic or fear

If you think you are experiencing any or all of the symptoms you should visit BeyondBlue and fill out their anxiety checklist.

Anxiety is something that can be treated and overcome. but it is important that you speak to your family GP (doctor) and school counsellor if you feel like you are suffering from anxiety.  If you are unsure of who to turn to when dealing with anxiety, check out this detailed list from BeyondBlue.

It’s very important that you seek help when you start feeling anxious rather than letting things build up and get on top of you.

blog-coping-stress-anxiety-depression-during-hsc-effort

Depression

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel down or unhappy from time to time. Life can be a struggle and sometimes it gets on top of us. But experiencing this for a long time or intensely is a sign of depression.

BeyondBlue has the following list of symptoms for depression:

  • Not going out anymore
  • Not getting things done at work/school
  • Withdrawing from close family and friends
  • Not doing usually enjoyable activities
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Feeling:
    • overwhelmed
    • guilty
    • irritable
    • frustrated
    • lacking in confidence
    • unhappy
    • miserable
    • disappointed
  • Being tired all the time
  • Feeling regularly sick and run down
  • Getting recurrent headaches and muscle pains
  • Experiencing significant changes in appetite or weight
  • Trouble sleeping and getting rest

Depression is very common, it affects about 5% of the world’s population. So, it is nothing to be ashamed of. What’s important is that you seek help coping with it.

If you recognise some of these symptoms in yourself, you should answer this checklist at BeyondBlue, they will give you actionable advice based on your responses.

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Keep Things In Perspective

High School can go from feeling like no big thing to an overwhelming all-consuming weight in the time it takes for your teacher to hand out an assessment notification.

This is especially true of Years 11 and 12 and the HSC.

The HSC and Trial HSC, in particular, place a significant amount of social and academic pressure placed on students.

While it’s true that your ATAR has an impact on what university course you can get into straight out of university.  A weak ATAR is not the end of the world.

You will have greater success at high-school if you can uncouple your study of subjects from your ATAR goal. It’s important to have an ATAR goal, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming to the point that you lose heart if you don’t meet your expectations.

It’s important that you take a step back regularly and evaluate all of your school endeavours – academic, extra-curricular, and sporting – so that you can see the positives shining through the negatives. Reevaluating your whole life will both show you the positives to focus on and give you some options about how to reorganise your life if you’re overburdened.

You must remember that you can drop some activities, sports, or drop down to 10 units of study if you think it will help you perform better at school. Don’t be afraid to have serious conversations with your coaches, parents, and teachers about this.

Most importantly, remember that “you are not your ATAR.” I know this gets repeated a lot. But it bears repeating because of the amount of importance that the media, politicians, and parents place on ATARs.

There are always other routes to achieving what you want to be and do.

If you’re struggling to keep things in perspective it is important that you talk to people about this. If you need an ear, sit down with a friend or parent, or go see your GP.

 

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Looking Out For Your Mates

While it’s tantamount that you keep a close on eye on your own mental health, it’s important that you look out for your mates through High School and beyond.

Peer support it is an important way of dealing with stressful situations. You might find it comfortable to open up unprompted by your friends, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people have a hard time talking about their feelings and emotions.

Because of this, people can tend to bottle things up. If you see one of your friends consistently getting consistently down or pissed off, try and talk to them about. If they don’t want to discuss it, try steering them towards discussing it with a professional.

ReachOut has some excellent resources to help you and your mates look after each other.

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Getting Help

If you feel you need help, but don’t feel comfortable speaking with friends, family, or teachers, there are plenty of options out there for.

The following websites have excellent online resources and trained staff you can talk to:

 

🤝 lifeline.org.au – Lifeline has online crisis support chat, detailed online resources, and a phone line you can call if you need to talk with somebody urgently – ☎ 13 11 14 .

🤝 kidshelpline.com.au – Kidsline is an organisation dedicated to child and youth well-being and has an extensive collection of online articles and resources to help you get through difficult periods. They also have a helpline you can call anytime for any reason – ☎ 1800 551 800.

🤝 beyondblue.org.au – Beyondblue is an organisation that specialises in helping people who suffer from anxiety and depression. They’ve extensive online resources, online chat, and a 24hr phone line – ☎ 1300 22 4636.

🤝 au.reachout.com – Reach Out.com is a mental health resource for young people and their parents. It has a detailed repository of advice and articles and interactive tools to help young people maintain their mental health. They don’t have a phone line, but they do have respected online forums and a partnership with NextStep.

🤝 headspace.com.au – Is the national youth mental health foundation. They have an enormous set of resources to help young people and their families when they are going through difficult periods. Headspace also offers an online service called eheadspace where you or your family can seek confidential advice or counselling.

🤝 blackdoginsititute.org.au – The Black Dog Institute is a research institute that aims to aid those with mental health issues like depression and remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. They have a wide variety of articles. The Black Dog Institute also run Bite Back: a site that supports young people facing stress and depression. Bite Back is an excellent program that will help you maintain your mental health.

While we’ve tried to offer as much useful advice as we can, you should not take this as a substitute for talking with a General Practioner (GP) or mental health professional.

 

Learn how past HSC students beat stress

Dealing with stress is challenging, but others have been there before you. Read how past Matrix students dealt with stress.

Written by Matrix Education

Matrix is Sydney's No.1 High School Tuition provider. Come read our blog regularly for study hacks, subject breakdowns, and all the other academic insights you need.

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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