Focus: NewPsych clinical psychology registrar Louis Silberberg said parents should remind teens the HSC does not define them, “their worth is not measured by a piece of paper” and they’re loved regardless. Picture: Simone De PeakHUNTER students who are feeling stressed about sitting the upcoming Higher School Certificate exams should remember no test is worth damaging their mental health – and tryingto prevent anxiety is better than cure.

NewPsych clinical psychologyregistrarLouis Silberberg said he had been seeing many teenagers who were feeling “burned out” in the lead up to the exam period, which starts on Thursday.

“It’s their first real exposure to quite intense academic pressure, and that’s coming both from themselves and from external sources like their parents and teachers,” Mr Silberberg said.

Related: Hunter students sprint to finish after Personal Development, Health and Physical Education examRelated:Hunter Higher School Certificate students say maths exam adds upRelated:Hunter students relegate content heavy exam paper to ancient historyRelated:Hunter students praised HSC English Paper 2 as “fair and kind to us”Related:Hunter Higher School Certificate students share verdict on English Paper 1Related:Hunter students out of the blocks for first Higher School Certificate exam“Often by the time the HSC comes around they’re feeling quite burned out and there can be feelings of resentment towards their schools for not preparing them better.

“There’s a fear of failure and the two most common responses are perfectionism, or not trying so they can’t be disappointed in themselves.

“We’re hoping to foster through therapy a balance between being brave enoughto not be perfect, but also courageous enough to do your best, be happy with your best and know that your best is enough.”

Mr Silberberg said symptoms of stress and anxiety could include sleep disruption, headaches, overthinking, tiredness, dry mouth, nausea, sweating, a racing mind, increasing heart rate and a loss of appetite.

“When this happens you’reoperating out of a primitive area of the brain, the reptilian brain, and it can be hard to make good decisions,” he said.

“Managing that distress is really important.

“Figure outa way to identifythe early signs of your anxiety –prevention is better than cure rather than getting intoa full blown meltdown.

“Have relaxation strategies. Take a break, do some exercise, take deep breaths, practice mindfulness.

“If you’re having unhelpful thoughts you can challenge them.

“If you’re thinking ‘My life is over’, ask yourself ‘Well is it really over? It’s just an exam’.”

Mr Silberberg said before exams, students should get enough sleep, eatwell and stayactive.

If possible, they should surround themselves with people they are comfortable with and who are comfortable about the paper.

“There’s contagious calm but there is also contagiousanxiety.

“If you surround yourself with people who are extremely stressed you can start to second guess yourself and think ‘Maybe I should be too’.”

He said it was important for students to continue making time for things they enjoy, such as reading, socialising with friends and hobbies, and tokeep the HSC in perspective.

“There are lots of other educational pathways such as TAFE, Open Foundation and apprenticeships.

“Yes, it’s the biggest exam of your life but it’s not the end of your life.”

NSW Education Standards Authority chief executive David de Carvalho recorded a video for students wishing them success with their exams.

“You’ve spent many months preparing for this point and the most important thing that you can do now is to stay positive. Positive that all your hard work will pay off,” he said.

“The exams will be challenging, the HSC wouldn’t be such a highly respected credential here and overseas if it wasn’t. That’s why attaining it is something you can always be proud of no matter what you do after school.

“Some of you may be starting to feel a little overwhelmed, it’s natural to feel that way when you’re facing life’s big challenges. A little bit of stress can actually help you focus.

“But if it starts to get too much during your exams, reach out and speak to someone about it. Speak to your principal or your teacher or your older siblings, friends or your parents.

“You need to be in good shape physically mentally and emotionally to be able to do your best.

“Here’s three things that should help:

“Make sure you get enough sleep –eight hours is recommended so you’re physically rested and your memory is fresh.

“Eating well will help you do your best. Eat a high-protein breakfast like eggs before each exam. Drink lots of water as it helps lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“Finally, exercise helps your mind, body and soul, especially during times of stress. Try to get in a 30-minute walk, jog, gym or swim three or four times a week.

“So stay calm and do your best, that’s all anyone can expect of you and all you should expect of yourself.”

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