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Avoiding stressing-out and instead zoning-in

Renata Galiamov

There’s no denying that VCE can be a stressful journey. Stress can be good at times; in fact, it’s essential for motivating us to get up and keep moving forward. However, when stress starts turning into anguish, fear, and dread, we have a problem. This kind of stress can be debilitating – we start getting filled with self-doubt and helplessness, and get overwhelmed with the feeling that we just can’t cope.

So, how can we deal with these feelings and start being productive again? And how do we avoid feeling distressed in the first place? Here are my top tips.

Paper: a good place to organise thoughts.

When you’ve got a million things racing through your mind, an effective way of prioritising them is first listing them all on paper. This helps you get a better overview of what needs to be done and what’s more urgent.

Once you’ve written everything down in any order, go through and number the tasks. I base my numbering on three things:

  1. Urgency – if you have a SAC in two days and an assignment due in two weeks, the SAC evidently takes priority.
  2. Importance – if you have to write an English essay, finding quotes is definitely important, but what’s more important and should be done first is actually planning your essay and figuring out your arguments.
  3. Size and difficulty – although it might seem counter-intuitive, it helps to first complete easier tasks (such as sending an email or finishing off some textbook questions), before moving on to harder tasks (such as writing an essay or working on your scientific poster SAC). Why? By getting the smaller, easier tasks out of the way, it reduces your stress because you’re getting stuff done, and helps declutter your mind so you can give the big tasks your full attention.

Once you’ve ordered your tasks, you might want to also jot down some due dates or deadlines next to them to hold yourself accountable.

And, of course, once you finish a task, don’t forget to indulge in that blessed feeling of crossing it off your list!

Big task? Divide and conquer.

Sometimes it feels like a task is so huge and vague that you’ve got no idea where to even start. In these situations, breaking the task down into manageable, bite-size pieces is the key to being productive.

For example, say you’ve got a SAC coming up in a subject that’s assessing a large chunk of the course… here’s an example of how you can approach this seemingly daunting and insurmountable task:

  1. Start by going back through your bookwork and any practice tests to identify questions you had gotten wrong or found challenging. Jot down what topics/skills these relate to. Revise these first by going to the relevant textbook section and doing some similar practice questions.
  2. Make a list of the ‘big ideas’ the SAC will likely test. That is, although the SAC may be based on say Chapters 1-10, there are definitely skills/concepts in there that are more important or frequently tested than others. Revise and practice these next.
  3. Look through past exam questions for anything related to what’ll be assessed in the SAC. At this point, you’ve revised a) the things you’ve found hard, and b) the things that will most likely be tested, so now any additional revision/questions you do will be geared towards giving you more experience with exam-style questions.

You can apply this sort of step-by-step approach to any big task you’re given – just break it down into smaller goals that’ll help guide your study.

Don’t forget: breathe.

When we’ve got a lot of things on our plate, it’s easy to get flustered and lost in what to do. In these situations, I always calm myself down by going back to basics: breathing. You don’t have to become a meditating guru, but simply pausing and closing your eyes to take a few deep breaths can really work wonders. As you’re slowly inhaling and exhaling, talk positively to yourself inside your mind – assure yourself that you can focus and that you will get everything done.

Commit: put a timer on it.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to do something, especially when we’re not all that excited about the task. I felt this the most whenever I sat down to write a practice essay for English Language. To stop myself from spending oodles of time playing around with my sentence constructions or word choices, I found that setting a 15 minute timer per paragraph was a super effective way of forcing me to get stuff written. Once I had gotten my thoughts down on paper, then I would go back and make tweaks, improve the fluency, and look for better synonyms.

Not only do time restraints stimulate you to work more efficiently, they’re also a fantastic way to accustom yourself to SAC and exam pressure.


Overall, the best way to deal with negative stress is to avoid it to begin with. By prioritising effectively, devising game-plans to approach big tasks, taking time-out to breathe and gather thoughts, and setting yourself time restraints to pump out work, you can get more done and hopefully free up more time to reward yourself!

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