99+ ATAR Journeys – Your Mental Health
|We asked one of our 99+ ATAR students, Sophie, to write a series of articles to help you navigate the challenges of year 11 & 12. Sophie got an ATAR of 99.70 and came 6th in the state for English Extension 2! This is her approach to looking after her mental health during year 12.
It’s important to not lose sight of keeping yourself in good mental shape during year 12. Many students, especially at selective schools, struggle with the pressure they put on themselves and the pressure imposed on them by their school, parents, coaching college, even their own friends. It’s disturbingly easy to fall into a boxed-in mindset that prioritises academics over everything else.
But I think it’s worth remembering that you’re a teenager. You’re allowed to be a teenager. Your mind is still malleable, impressionable; it’s fragile. Also surprisingly resilient, but that doesn’t mean it’s invulnerable. So here’s my guide to keeping yourself grounded.
Be friends with your friends
If you enjoy their company on however superficial a level, it’s worth making time for them between your other commitments. Year 12 will have an outcome specific to you as an individual, but you are undertaking that journey alongside your cohort, your peers, your friends. Put simply, you’re all in the same boat. They’re your support network and you’re theirs.
Even when you don’t need your friends’ support as such, it’s still fun to spend time with them. This is your last year of high school! It’s worthwhile making some good memories. Don’t be afraid to schedule regular meetings, or study sessions if you’re more focused on academics. Maintaining a social network and studying are not mutually exclusive; they in fact go hand in hand – studying with friends is a great opportunity for some constructive downtime. You all do some learning, and go watch a movie afterwards. Quality bonding time right there! A support network is no good if at your moment of need you realise you don’t have anyone you’d trust with your vulnerabilities.
The alternative is to bottle up your emotions, and that’s going nowhere good. Pushing everything negative deep, deep down is toxic and will harm you in the long run. Confiding in someone else, especially someone you trust, will help. The very act of verbalising your thoughts, however messy or shameful you believe them to be, is cathartic.
If you’re the introverted type who can’t stand human contact, then keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and you don’t have to update it daily; just somewhere to spill out your innermost thoughts. For some it’s an excellent way of managing their emotions, but mostly it’s a place to vent. Personally, I found keeping a journal very helpful, as it gave me space to reflect on myself, my relationships, and how I was incredibly grateful for what I had.
But my advice still stands for introverts – talking to your friends is a simple and good way to stay grounded. If the stress does reach insurmountable levels, then know it’s not weak to reach out for professional help from your school counsellor or welfare advisor, who are trained to help you.
Make time for your hobbies
I’m a cautionary tale. Before hitting senior school, I wrote a ton of short stories in my spare time. But then I decided I should put it aside in favour of “getting serious” for the HSC. In hindsight, this was a monumental mistake. Writing made me happy; I loved it with all my heart. Then I plastered “STUDYING” over it and metaphorically smothered my own happiness. This mindset of “I have to suffer for good marks” was incredibly damaging. Looking back, it was probably English Extension 2 that saved me from spiralling into complete depression during year 12 because it allowed my writer’s heart to flourish.
It boils down to this: if doing something makes you happy, relaxes you, takes your mind off the stressful things in life, then keep doing it. Do it guilt-free knowing that it’s an emotional outlet and a healthy way of managing your stress. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice things you love for the sake of what is in the end a two-year assessment in the long tapestry of your life.
Get some perspective
I think this is the hardest thing to do, but it’s incredibly important not just for your marks, but for life. Understand that you cannot control everything. Some things happen because they do. Not because it’s a punishment for your weakness or the universe’s way of telling you that you’re a failure, but because circumstances aligned in such a way that the outcome didn’t favour you. And hey, it sucks. That’s okay to acknowledge.
I’m not saying you should push all blame onto external factors. But you shouldn’t think that you, and you alone, are always entirely to blame either. That’s an important distinction to make. Once you’ve accepted it, you can move on to focus on the things you do control, and what you can do. It’s about adaptability and flexibility; learning to move through rather than move against. Your PDHPE lessons might call it “resilience”, and that’s a good word too.
A bad exam mark, for example, might be the result of your poor study, teachers marking harder, and the high standard of your peers. You can’t change the latter two, so focus on how you can study more effectively for the next exam. You can ensure you listen in class and ask questions when you don’t understand something; you can start studying a few days or even weeks in advance of your exam. The responsibility falls on you, but framed another way, you can only take responsibility for that over which you have control.
Remember that there’s an “after year 12”
Listen, life is strange. Year 12 is only a tiny bit of that strange, and maybe it’s a horrible kind of strangeness that makes you want to curl up in a ball, close your eyes, and never face the world again. But there are other types of strangeness too; great and wonderful and beautiful, so brilliantly kind and incandescent that you’d never have believed in them as you toiled through your HSC. That other strangeness is out there, beyond high school, and you want to be as ready as possible. So keep an open mind and some optimism, because there’s an after, and it’ll only be “happily ever” if you look ahead with bright eyes.
You might still feel sceptical after reading all this. That’s fine. Take my words as you will at this moment in time. I just want to make it clear that I’m writing this 3.5 years from my own HSC, with the hindsight, experience, and wisdom I’ve gained in those years. Most of the things here I didn’t do, or did too late – it was only through the select kindness of a few that I managed to stay upright and do as well as I did. Year 12 isn’t a punishment, and you should not punish yourself to get through it.
For more awesome content like this check out the FREE Band6 Resource Library! Our members get access to over 60 FREE year 11 and 12 resources to help you achieve your goals at school and still stay sane. You can also ask questions from 99+ ATAR students and even suggest topics for future articles.
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