Know what direction you're headed
Probably the biggest source of stress and anxiety is not knowing what your goal is, not having a definite target or career choice to aim for. The next biggest stress creator is when you do have a very definite target but you don't feel capable of reaching it. Paralysis sets in, you start to worry about all the things that you have no control over, and anxiety prevents you from focusing on the task in hand. The key to peace of mind is to settle on realistic goals and this can rarely be done alone.
Starting into fifth year should be an important checkpoint - you need to be thinking in concrete terms about the subjects you will take for the Leaving Cert and therefore about the possible college and career options. Talk to a guidance counsellor, get some feedback on aptitude tests and other careers assesments you may have done and make use of this independent professional advice. Consult your teachers about the level and grades you should be aiming at - they know your form and your potential and can offer objective advice. The skoool.ie careers section provides comprehensive help for all your needs in this area.
When you settle on a target that you know is manageable, you create a calmness that stays with you during the year and your system doesn't over-react to the various ups and downs you will encounter.
'It's good to talk'
Talking-through your situation at any stage with a parent, guidance counsellor, or close friend, is often a good way to put things in perspective. Discussing your academic goals and career options in a rational and objective manner helps you to focus on the positive and provides psychological support for your efforts. Expressing your anxieties and fears to a trusted friend or parent is a proven protector against the build-up of stress. It's not that there are easy answers to many of the problems (inside or outside school) you may encounter. But somehow, having talked them through, they can seem more manageable than before and you feel some support. Starting into sixth year is a good checkpoint for assessing your goals and targets. Filling out the CAO form in January or preparing for the 'mock' exams are times when you need feedback and advice from the people who know you best. Following the 'mocks', you need to review your targets in each subject and get feedback from your teachers in this regard.
One step at a time
All journeys are made up of a series of small steps. Sometimes, by looking at the length and duration of the journey, you can easily be demoralised and lose heart. Try instead to focus on the things that you have some control over here and now - this particular section of the course or the test revision you plan to do in the coming weekend. Be smart in your approach. Use all the information, tips and guidance available. Tap into the knowledge of those who have gone before. Learn from the experience of older brothers or sisters, of friends of the family, of past-pupils from your school, of your teachers and tutors. The best results aren't always achieved by those who have spent the most time studying but often by those who been smartest in their preparation and learning. Divide your work up into manageable chunks and always relate your revision to the structure of the exam papers and the amount of time remaining. In this way, what initially looked like a huge task can appear more realistic.
Take the 'helicopter view'
It is easy to get so caught up in school and career pressures that you lose sight of the bigger picture. The hype that surrounds exam year can reach a crescendo in the months of May and June. People keep telling you that this is the most important thing in your world, that your future depends on it, that the system will pass judgement on you and you will be tattooed with this verdict for the rest of your life. Yeah, right!
There have never been so many college places available in Ireland, the demographics are all working in your favour, and points levels are on a downward trend. There is a third-level place waiting for you if you want it. In five years time, nobody will particularly care what grades you achieved in your Leaving Cert, you will have a qualification of some sort to your name, and you will have built up some work experience. The world will be opening up for you and real life begins.
So, as you hack your way through the jungle of exam year, remember to always think positive, surround yourself with positive people and messages, and bring a periscope!