If you’re reading this, you’re unlucky enough to have your HSC school year coincide with a once in a generation global pandemic. You’re not allowed to visit your mates, you can’t let off steam on the sports field, and the fun bits of Year 12 have been cancelled. However, you’re still expected to prepare for a raft of HSC exams.

Lockdowns are stressful. There’s several reasons for this, and they tend to differ from person to person. This is important as stress tends to be bad for learning and performing under exam conditions. This is because our brains evolved to protect us from threat and help us to survive, at any cost. When we are feeling acutely stressed, our brains are in ‘look for threat’ mode. In this mode, we start processing information more rigidly, in all or nothing terms, and struggle to hold multiple ideas in mind at once. With a very stressed-out nervous system, we aren’t working at our best.

How can you keep your stress levels under control and help to maximise your HSC performance? The following three principles outlined below may help.

Keep Moving

Procrastination and generally wasting time will be even more prevalent this year under a COVID-Pandemic HSC year. You can help keep procrastination under control by following the principle of ‘keep moving.’ The keep moving principle involves creating a realistic and flexible study schedule. Once study time comes around, you keep moving. If you’re feeling distractible and Chem feels too much, you start with a more palatable subject. If you start a practice paper and feel discouraged because the questions are harder than you expected, you remain task-focused and keep going. By prioritising activity and movement, your brain will learn that study time really is for study time. In time, the pull towards the neon lights of YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram will diminish.

Aim for Average

There is a saying that goes along the lines of: “Aim for the moon, and if you fail you will land amongst the stars.” During a COVID-19 HSC Year, working towards the moon (an ambitious ATAR result) is unlikely to be helpful. Aiming for excellence will not improve your performance and is likely to; 1. Increase Stress (and make you less good at studying), and 2. Lead you to self-evaluate and over-think your responses as you work. This extra-process robs you of headspace and energy that would otherwise have been available to focus on the task at hand. Paradoxically, taking away pressure to produce what you think might look like a ‘Band 6’ is likely to increase your performance.

Stay Connected

Psychologists are increasingly understanding the important role that being with others plays in managing our emotions and stress levels. If Humans were to be on display at a City Zoo alongside other animals– there might well be instructions – ‘WARNING – DO NOT CAGE ALONE’. Unfortunately, given the current lockdown rules, it will be easy to remain isolated as your HSC exam period approaches. Staying connected with your friends will go a long way to keeping your stress levels under control. Try and do whatever you can to stay connected to your friends in the lead-up to exams. Keep up to date with the loosening of restrictions. Consider prioritising friendships as an investment in your overall HSC success.

Need more support?

If you are finding that your stress and anxiety levels are becoming a problem, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Speaking to your parents and your GP is a good start. GPs can co-ordinate your help and connect you with someone whom you might feel comfortable speaking with.

You may also like to explore these additional resources from Reach Out. If you are finding yourself struggling with intense emotions, you may also like to read our blog on distress tolerance.