Why VCE stress relief is essential

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There’s no denying the fact that VCE exams are a big deal. If you’re a student with a clear idea of where you’re heading and have a specific score in mind, you’re probably pretty focused. You might even be putting some serious pressure on yourself. And if you’re uncertain about what 2016 will hold or thinking a lot about how life’s about to change, you might be experiencing some anxiety. Whatever you’re feeling, stressing out about exams won’t help.

Nicole Rinehart, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Deakin University, says in the last decade there has been increasing awareness of psychological mood states that occur during stressful times like VCE exams.

‘Anxiety is more contagious than the common cold,’ Prof. Rinehart points out. By this she means that if you’re in a room full of stressed people, chances are you’re going to leave feeling tense. By contrast, being around fun, happy people is going to elevate your mood. ‘There is an important message in that for families. If parents are freaking out, that’s going to have an impact on kids,’ she adds.

Prof. Rinehart says there are key ‘back to basics’ tools to help manage stress, including eating well, getting plenty of sleep, exercising and getting out with friends. These will ensure you’re feeling balanced and energised when it’s time to put pen to paper.

'Anxiety is more contagious than the common cold.'

Professor Nicole Rinehart,
Deakin University

At St Michael’s Grammar School in St Kilda, VCE student wellbeing is a central focus. The school’s psychologist Emily Crawford says one in four students visit school psychologists to help manage anxiety. According to Crawford, this figure reflects a trend across the independent sector in Melbourne’s bayside area and is consistent with the general rise of anxiety in Australian society. ‘Contributing factors include perceived expectations from others such as parents; competing academic, social, physical and co-curricular pressures; and the expectations students place on themselves,’ she explains.

To combat this, the ‘calm space’ program was implemented at the school. Dr Amanda Samson, teacher and VCE ‘Being Well’ Program Coordinator says, ‘I could see the way in which both yoga and mindful walking meditation could offer benefits to the VCE students, who often spend a lot of time sitting at desks studying.’ She’s observed calmer, more focused students with improved emotional regulation. The yoga classes have been so successful they’re now open to Year 11s as well as Year 12s.

According to Mahes Karuppiah-Quillen, stress management expert and President of Laughter Clubs Victoria, another way to relieve stress is to have a chuckle. She argues that laughter truly is the best stress relief elixir because it opens up the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. If you’re not lightening the mood while you’re studying, she says you can actually build up so much tension that you can’t remember things. ‘When you’re feeling relaxed you become more creative and productive. You’re able to retain information,’ Karuppiah-Quillen says, and adds that if you’re feeling too serious to LOL on demand, ‘fake it ‘till you’ll make it. The body can’t tell the difference.’

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Professor Nicole Rinehart
Professor Nicole Rinehart

Professor of Psychology (Clinical), School of Psychology, Deakin University
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