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VCE has always been a stressful time for students, their families and teachers. Lockdown and COVID-19 have added more stressors.
You have probably heard a lot about how to deal with lockdown stress generally. Activities such as keeping to a routine, staying connected with your friendships, exercising and pursuing new interests are all important. What I’m talking about here is how you can best manage and take control of your emotions so you can get into study mode.
Year 12 students have had a challenging 18 months.Credit:Robert Rough
We know that a little stress or anxiety is good. It is positive, it motivates us to get things done. Too much is negative. It blocks our thinking and prevents us from achieving anything. To learn effectively, you need to go from the negative stress and anxiety to the positive. You can do this better if you know what causes them and what you can do.
We become anxious or stressed when we think something is threatening us. Suppose you have these experiences: you can’t understand something you need to learn; you think you can’t finish an assignment on time; you can’t see your friends for mutual support; you’re not sure how your parents will react to something you’ve done. Each can cause you stress and anxiety.
The threat is often that in the future you will lose something you value. It could be knowledge you need for an exam, a good mark for an assignment, friendship and acceptance from someone, or a loss of trust from your parents.
In each case, the anxiety and stress begins with an event. We may think the event causes the negative feelings. If so, we are overlooking something that comes between them: what we tell ourselves about the event.
In the first event, when you couldn’t understand the topic, you may unconsciously tell yourself that the knowledge is vital, it’ll be bad for your future if you don’t know it and you might fail. It’s not surprising you feel anxious and stressed.
Suppose another person also experienced the first event. They didn’t understand it at the time. However, they told themselves they might learn more about it by working on the information a bit at a time and linking it with what they knew. Their anxiety is likely to be lower; they have actions to take to change the event.
It’s not the event itself that causes the anxiety. Both of you had the same experience. You differed in what you told yourselves about it.
You used negative self-talk. You told yourself there was nothing you could do to improve your situation. The other person’s self-talk was positive. They told themselves actions they could take to control the event. We often use negative self-talk unconsciously. We don’t hear what we tell ourselves. We believe the negative outcome is the only one. We don’t see the positive options.
Between now and the end of the year you will face events that could lead to negative stress. You can deal with them better by tuning in to your self-talk. Look for all you can do to improve the situation. If your first reaction is negative self-talk, take control and swap to more positive. You will tame the anxiety and stress.
Dr John Munro is Professor of Educational Psychology and Exceptional Learning at Australian Catholic University
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