How to handle fear about the future: A guide for year 12 students

Life as a year 12 student is already stressful enough without having to worry about your future once you graduate. If you’re experiencing fear of the future in the short term (next week, next term) as well as in the distant future (end of the year, next year, and beyond), you might be experiencing a range of different emotions, including stress, fear, uncertainty, depression, frustration, anger and disappointment.

While these emotions are understandable, they're also very distracting and can have negative impacts on our health and mood. Worrying about the future gets in the way of enjoying and making the most of the present. Luckily, there are some strategies for managing our worries about the future so that we're able to re-focus on and enjoy the present as much as possible.

girl in jeans sitting down looking sad

Ways to cope

Feel prepared, come what may

For those of us who cope by having a plan, it might be helpful to sit down and write yourself two plans: Plan A (what you would want to do if things were ‘normal’) and Plan B (your best choice of what to do if things aren’t ‘normal’). Consider your Plan B to be a productive or fun way to spend the next period of time if you aren’t able to adopt Plan A for whatever reason.

For example, your Plan A might be to travel overseas, move out of home and into a college, or move to a new city for work/study; while your Plan B might be to complete some online training/study, gain new skills and work on creative projects with the intention of switching to Plan A six to 12 months later. Try to see your Plan B as an opportunity to upskill yourself and to work on some personal projects and goals while you wait to revert to Plan A at a slightly later date. Here are some skills you can work on for the future.

The aim isn’t to give up on Plan A, but rather to put it on pause for a little while. If you are unsure of a good Plan B, talk to a teacher or careers counsellor about it.

Be balanced and compassionate in your thinking

It’s important to be kind to yourself and realistic in your thinking. When you notice that you are worrying, say to yourself: ‘It’s understandable that I’m feeling stressed, as this is a very unusual situation to be in. What’s the best thing I can do right now to take care of myself and to help me feel better?’

Try to be as kind and supportive when speaking to yourself as you would be if you were talking with your best friend. Learn how to challenge negative thoughts here.

Improve the moment

If you find yourself getting bogged down in worries and negativity, try to improve the moment by doing something nice for yourself. Watch a funny video or a favourite movie/tv show, play a game you enjoy, or spend time on an interesting hobby or craft.

Focus on your surroundings

It’s pretty overwhelming to think about what might happen in the future, especially when you are feeling uncertain about what you want to do. It can be helpful to focus your attention on what’s immediately around you and disconnect from the outside world for a bit. ‘Zoom in’ to your room or your home and think only about the task at hand (whether that’s your school work, caring for your pets or plants, or working on a creative project).

Slow down to be in the ‘now’

Spending a lot of time on screens can lead to a feeling of frenzy and stress. Slow down by practising some breathing exercises, or doing stretching, yoga or a mindfulness meditation. These activities will reduce physical tension and the bodily symptoms of stress and help to clear your mind.

Take control in your own world

Have a few things in your life that you are in control of. Examples include keeping your room or desk tidy, organising/cleaning out a space in the house, or making a plan that you stick to, such as messaging three friends each day, taking the dog for a walk, or levelling up in your favorite game.

Practise gratitude

Finding things, big or small, to be grateful for can be really beneficial for your wellbeing. Starting a gratitude journal (it can just be a note on your phone) will help you to refocus on the good things in life. Start by listing three things each day that you are grateful for. Read more about how you can practise gratitude.

Engage in random acts of kindness

Engaging in daily or weekly random acts of kindness will enable you to bring something good or positive into the world, and give you some sense of control. You could make a gift for someone, send a kind/encouraging message, contribute to community support projects, or help out a family member or friend with something they're working on.

Stay connected

Your friends are probably experiencing similar worries and it can really help to talk about it together and support each other. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with friends about your concerns, you can get some support via the ReachOut Online Community.

Get support

You don’t have to work everything out by yourself! Talk to someone ‘in the know’, such as a teacher, your year coordinator or wellbeing teacher, the school careers counsellor, or someone who works at the uni/TAFE admissions office, and ask for their advice and suggestions. If you are feeling really overwhelmed, it could help to speak with a mental health professional who can help support you through this tricky time.

You could also talk to a mental health professional online via sites such as eheadspace, beyondblue and Lifeline. Here are more cheap or free ways to get support and professional help.

It’s important to remember:

  • It’s completely understandable if you are having a hard time coping with all of the uncertainty right now.

  • It’s okay to be unsure about what you are going to do next year.

It’s challenging to accept that we can’t predict the future, however, it can help to remember that you are still in control of your own path, and that there are lots of different pathways to study and to work.

Although things will look a little different from how you imagined they would be, or how you had planned, we can usually find our own way to get to where we want to go, even if it takes a little longer than we had first hoped. For now, focus on the things that you can control and trust that, no matter what happens, you’ll be able to cope.

This article was written by Dr Amy Burton, Clinical Psychologist.

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