How I overcame exam anxiety – Liam Maher, 2017 HSC student
I love to sing but hate doing it in front of crowds – it terrifies me. Even so, I decided to do HSC Music because it meant that throughout the HSC I always had a creative outlet.
Throughout the year I pretended not to be stressed about my music performance, even though anxiety was boiling over within me months before my music performances. I put on what I thought was a brave face and I never told anyone how I was really feeling.
The truth is that I was having trouble sleeping. I blocked people out to make sure no one would suspect I was struggling. I felt like I couldn't admit that I was anxious about something that I had an image of being 'good at'.
This was something I struggled with throughout the whole of my HSC year. I logged on to ReachOut, an online mental health organisation that offers support, tools and tips for young people experiencing stress. I learnt more about how important taking breaks and spending time with friends are during your HSC year. I made more of an effort to spend time with my friends and that was definitely something that made me feel better.
However, the anxiety and stress didn't go away. I went into the final exam feeling like I had the weight of expectations of the entire school, my family and my friends on me. I was terrified.
Then I noticed my favourite music teacher was there. All she had to say was, "How are we feeling about today?" and I started to talk. She listened and reassured me that it wasn't about being the best – it was about doing my best.
'I pretended not to be stressed … even though anxiety was boiling over within me.'
I should've spoken up sooner. Teachers, friends, family – they always cared, that wasn't the issue. It was being able to admit to myself that I needed a hand, that taking on advice or support didn't make me less capable – it meant I was prepared to face what was going on for me.
When I reflect back on this period, I don't think about the performance. I think about the people who were outside the room cheering me on and the hours of practice and lessons which, like bricks of a house, slowly built upon one another and resulted in that final exam.
I wish I could've told my Year 12 self that the results fade. I don't walk through life with a grade from Year 12 attached to my back – I walk with the knowledge and skills which I learnt about myself and my wellbeing.
Healthy vs unhealthy stress
Stress is normal, and our body needs it to perform at its best. Not all stress is bad. But too much stress can work against you.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has made it even more important to look after yourselves. Reach out to family, friends and your teachers whenever you need to and make sure you keep managing your stress levels.
When you know how to manage stress, you can make it work for you and use it as a motivator. Achieving an "optimum" level of stress leading up to an exam can make you feel alert and just the right amount of nervous.
Stress becomes unhealthy when you:
Find out about: Effects of stress on the body | Stress
When stress is the key to success.
Tips to manage stress
Use healthy stress as a key to success
Activated in stressful situations, the 'fight or flight' response is our body's way of helping us deal with threats or danger. Increased blood flow allows us to do things to a level we normally couldn't, so use this as fuel to perform.
The more you learn to control 'fight or flight', the less it will control you.
Find out: How to deal with stress | Stress
Remember to breathe.Credit:NESA
Set up good routines
A good and consistent routine will ensure you get the most out of your study time. Make sure you:
Find out more about: How to manage your time | Exam stress
The more you practise, the less daunting exams are.Credit:NESA
Practise your scares away
The more you can familiarise yourself with exams, the less daunting they are.
Healthy eating, getting enough sleep and socialising are just as important as studying. Exercise – such as running, lifting weights, dancing or skipping with a rope – is also great for reducing stress.
Did you know about: Foods that help our brain study | Exam stress
Learn how to stress swap
Would you believe it if we told you watching Netflix could be a study hack?! Taking breaks is a super important part of studying and staying motivated. If you're feeling overloaded, try a "stress swap" activity to bring stress levels down.
Find out: Why you shouldn't always put studying first | Exam stress
Don't keep your worries to yourself. Credit:NESA
Talk about it
You probably know someone who seems to deal with stress really well — maybe a friend who has done the HSC already, a teacher or parent/carer. Talk to them! Talking to people with experience can help you see that what seems like a big deal now, may not be so important even a few months down the track.
Find out more about: Why talking helps
For quick tips and more information:
Follow #stayhealthyHSC on social media. Visit the NESA website.
Apps that can help
When you just need someone to talk to, trained active listeners are available to chat via text or online to help you through hard times.
Designed primarily for teenagers and young adults, Mindshift helps you focus on issues that cause stress and anxiety in the first place.
Don't let stress get the better of you.Credit:NESA
Stop, Breathe & Think
Aiming to give you exactly what it says in the title – the opportunity (and skills) to be able to stop everything and just breathe, and think.
With stunning backgrounds you can stare at for ages and a range of meditations, Calm gives you a mental escape – without having to go anywhere.
Self-help for anxiety
Designed to help you learn more about your anxiety – use it to build your own anxiety toolkit, and then tailor it to suit your life.
Guided and unguided meditations with ten free sessions, plus hundreds of hours of extra content you can access if you subscribe.
Grounded in positive psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, Happify helps you develop a positive mindset.
Where to get support
Questions about your HSC?
Contact the HSC Hotline
Call 1300 138 323; Email: HSCHotline@nesa.nsw.edu.au or visit educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/stayhealthyHSC
Follow #stayhealthyHSC #2020HSC
If you feel overwhelmed, speak up. Credit:NESA
Looking for help to manage stress?
If you feel anxious or overwhelmed, get support. Speak to family, friends, a teacher, connect with one of these services or make an appointment with your GP.
Chapter 5: Ready, Study, Go