Looking after yourself over the exam period, with ReachOut's CEO

ReachOut CEO, Ashley de Silva, sat down with current HSC students to discuss how to look after yourself and your friends over the HSC period, before written exams start.

How to look after yourself and your friends over the HSC period

ASHLEY: Well, welcome everyone. My name is Ashley de Silva, I'm the CEO of ReachOut Australia, which is an online mental health service for young people and their parents.

And I'm really glad to be joined today by two really fantastic guests April and Farzana.

So, April and Farzana, welcome.

And could you just start off by telling us a little bit about yourselves?

APRIL: Yeah, so my name is April and I go to Davidson High School in Sydney and I'm 18 years old.

FARZANA: My name is Farzana, I go to Evans High School and I am 18 years old.

ASHLEY: Well, lovely to meet you, I mean, the other thing you both have in common is that you’re sitting HSC exams this year, and that's a you know, a really big part of why we're chatting today.

We want to be able to talk. feeling leading into exams and how you're managing, sometimes the stress, the nerves that come with that, so that we can try to share some ideas to help other students who are in a similar position.

So just to start off, I mean, can you share with us how you're feeling about approaching exams this year?

APRIL: I'm definitely anxious. It's been a hard year. The stress is hitting now. The last week in, the

countdown is coming. So, yeah, definitely overwhelmed. What about you, Farzana?

FARZANA: I'm currently feeling nervous and uncertain about the future and what

might happen, and my ATAR. But I'm happy that we will be done with this and our high school journey.

ASHLEY: It's good to hear you Farzana acknowledging that you know you are at the end of a really important journey and to just kind of appreciate how hard it is to kind of do all the work that you've done over so many years. But equally, as you said April, totally understandable that there will be nerves linked to that to that too. So, I'm kind of interested in hearing a little bit more about what are you doing at the moment to kind of, from each of you, about how you're managing the stress and the nerves that you're feeling.

APRIL: I feel as for me, to really reduce nerves I look at the future, it’s not always going to be this way, and we'll be done soon, and our future is just starting really. And that really excites me and makes me really just want to push through it.

ASHLEY Wow. And how about you Farzana?

FARZANA: Whenever I feel nervous, I give myself positive hope that no matter how hard it has been this year still we will go through it and my future job is the thing that keeps on pushing means making me work even harder and not to give up.

ASHLEY: Again, I'm really impressed with both your ability to kind of see things like. Farzana you spoke about kind of positive self-talk and how your kind of rather than beat yourself up, you kind of lean into how, how am I doing and April your perspective on kind of understanding, this is just the beginning, you know, even though it feels like such a huge moment to arrive at and it is, often times you hear from people who've been through exams already that they look back on it and they say, oh, I felt so much pressure that actually no one ever asks me what my score was. And in some ways, what I ended up doing with my life was quite different from what I might have even thought about at that time. I don't know if you've had anyone share that with you before.

But you know, as a service that's helping a lot of young people like you with things like study stress, you know, some of the things that we often hear kind of feelings like you've shared and different ways that we try to help people through that are ideas like what you shared around positive self-talk, Farzana and also perspective April, but equally, just having a bit of a game plan as you kind of head into this final week before exams and really prioritising basic things like making sure you're still sleeping.

So, try not to cram, like try not to be so focused on cramming that you don't do basic things like sleeping, exercising or trying to take some breaks for yourself and doing things with friends or whatever it is that you do to enjoy life.

And just keeping an eye on nutrition as well and trying to limit things like coffee and sugar and stuff because they can give you short bursts of energy, but they can also give you some lulls pretty quickly afterwards.

APRIL: Ashley, as CEO of Reach Out, you obviously know a lot about mental health and stress. What does that look like at the moment?

ASHLEY: Yeah, we do. And in fact, it's something that we think about it every year, because we know that it can be a really daunting experience for young people because you put in so much effort to get there.

And what we're seeing this year is that it's no different in that there's still a lot of young people feeling a similar way to both of you. But I think the thing that's really stands out is just that it's happening in a year where we've all been so impacted by COVID.

And so, schooling for a lot of young people this year has been you know, offline for big parts of it or exams haven't felt like they were completely certain about when they'd happen. And so, we've certainly seen, you know, increases in the stress and young people are telling us that their stress levels were higher this year.

So, you know, you both shared that there's elements of that you're feeling. It's certainly true across the board as well.

FARZANA: Ashley, do you have any tips on how to manage study stress?

ASHLEY: Yeah, I think, um, you know, some of the other ideas around managing study stress can be things like going in with a bit of a timetable. So, looking at kind of looking at the exam period overall and trying just to kind of break it down and think about what would help you, in the week before, the day before, and during it. And if possible, you know, kind of even contacting people in your life, you could be able to help you, so kind of saying to friends or family, if you can, this is what my next kind of two weeks, three weeks is going to be looking like. These are some things I want I want to kind of share that could be helpful.

If you can't think of someone in your life, who might be able to do that for you there's communities like

on reachout.com. We've an online community forum where young people can come in and create an account, and chat with other people who are often going through similar things. So, you can share strategies and tips around what is working for yourself or hear from others about what could be working for them. So, I think that's an important part as well.

And the other part is just possibly, keeping an eye on you on yourself and kind of recognising that some stress about exams is totally normal, and I think anyone would kind of relate to that. But some tips around

how you might know when that stress is probably getting a little bit too much, are things like, if you're noticing that you're having trouble sleeping or you're forgetting things, or you're finding it hard to concentrate. But just keep an eye out for those kinds of things because they're usually a sign that that that kind of healthy levels of stress are becoming more important for you to potentially start seeking help for. And there are many ways you can do that as well.

APRIL: And Ashley, how can we help our friends or other people who are going through tough times?

ASHLEY: That's a great question. And I think, you know more broadly than just the exam period, you know, all of us have ups and downs at different times, and I think being someone who can really know for yourself like how am I feeling today and really building your own understanding of what it feels like to be well and having days where you may not feel as good and learning what that looks like for you because it is important when helping others that you actually feel ready and able to do that within yourself.

And sometimes, you know there will be days where we may not feel like that. But more broadly, I think a big part of it, when you've got friends or family that you're thinking about, where you can and you feel safe to have a conversation and ask them, how are you going? And knowing that if the conversation ever feels too big and sometimes that can happen, that you don't have to carry that all on your own, and that even when as a friend, you've got concerns around someone, it's completely normal and actually a really great thing to do, to look at services like ReachOut or contact people and other places like GPs or Headspace centres or the school counsellor to ask them what they think and how they might be able to help you help your friend too.

FARZANA: And Ashely, do you think that there are any benefits to going through a hard time like this pandemic?

ASHLEY: You know, it may not feel like I now, and I think, you know, I really don't want to take away from the fact that it's been it's added a lot more uncertainty to an already stressful time, particularly for students like yourselves. But one of the benefits we've seen at ReachOut is that actually a lot more young people have sought help this year. And that's I know it sounds like, that's not a good thing, because they needed the support, but it is actually positive because it's much better for people who feel like they might need a hand to actually contact services and ask for that support than to be feeling that way and sitting with it on their own.

So, one of the things I like to think is that, even though Covid has been challenging for a lot of people by reaching out for support this year, we will know how to do that again later in our lives, when we might need to do it again. And we've actually learned about what services are out there and how they could help me And so I think that's been a really positive thing to see young people really kind of taking charge of their mental health when they can in that way.

We've been talking a lot about how many students will be sitting through exams soon. I'm really keen to hear from each of you about what is a typical day for you look like? As your kind of preparing for exams? So, April why don’t you kick this off.

APRIL: So, for me, it's really important to get into the headspace beforehand. Have a good meal, clean, make sure have a nice space to actually study in, have a shower, do whatever to just really prepare myself and then always turn the phone off. That's such a distraction. And really just go, no set time, just until I feel like, I need a break and then just go rewire and come back.

ASHLEY: Yeah, it's amazing how helpful it can be to set up a space like you're talking about to kind of really just give yourself the best chance of being able to focus for that period.

And what about you Farzana and what do you do when it comes to preparing yourself for exams? And how do you approach study?

FARZANA: For me, I do (inaudible) and if there are questions or things that I don't understand, I try to translate it in my own language and then kind of (inaudible) on there, and just think about that question, in case that it comes in an exam or anything.

ASHLEY: That's a great tip. And do you tend to kind of are there times of the day, you like to study more than others?

FARZANA: Mostly I study during the night because I have a big family and that's the time when everyone is sleeping and everything and I can have my own space.

ASHLEY: You make the most of it when the house is quiet. What about you April when do you kind of tend to tackle study?

APRIL: Usually in the mornings, just because I feel personally, by the time it gets late, I'll want to go out and see friends or watch Netflix. I just I kind of switch off, when it gets too late. So as early as I can? Yeah.

ASHLEY: Yeah, I think that's something you don't grow out of. Sometimes some of us are more morning and sometimes are more evening. It's a good thing to just tune into when works best for you, if you can.

So, it's good you've got your study routines in place but there will be times, as we said, where you do feel a bit nervous or stressed. I'm hoping you might be able to share with us a little bit around, what do you do? Is there, are there support networks in your life, are there places you go or people you turn to that kind of help you when you're feeling like that?

APRIL: Friends is my big support network. We're all going through the same thing. We all have the same stress at the moment. And really just being around, yeah friends and people that support me

and I know care about me really helps. And, or even just not a person just doing what I love or going for a drive with some music on.

ASHLEY: It's a good point. Sometimes just time out for yourself. Farzana how about you?

FARZANA: I talk to a teacher or I have a friend. Whenever I feel down I go talk to her, talk to that person.

And then that gives me positive energy that I have to believe in myself and I can do it, even if it's kind of hard for me because of my language barriers, but they're giving me positive energy and encouraging me.

ASHLEY: Sounds like a great friend, to be able to give you such nice advice. And for anyone who's watching that might feel like you may not have someone that you immediately think of. It's worth remembering that you know you can you can speak to a counsellor or a doctor, or you can come to ReachOut, which is an anonymous service even and actually just connect with other young people online or read information that often helps a lot of young people too.

Well, Farzana and April. Thank you so much. It's been so great to meet you both today and also to hear a lot more about how you're feeling and approaching exams.

I just want to wish you the best of luck for everything. I'm sure you'll do your absolute best and good luck with everything to come.

Thank you.

APRIL: Thank you Ashley.

FARZANA: Thank you.

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