Worry and stress: A message for young people

22 Jul 2020 By Gordon McKinlay, Head of Schools for Renfrewshire Council

I didn’t do particularly well at school.  Every report card said that I was “easily distracted”. I did enough to get by but never so much that anyone would notice. My exam results weren’t brilliant, just enough not to be noticed by my mum.

It was a bit odd then when I became a teacher and tried to encourage young people that they really needed to work hard so that they could get good qualifications.  I don’t work in schools now, but I still love to see people flourish and my work means I get the chance to encourage lots of different people in lots of schools.

This year has been really difficult for everyone.  When schools closed in March and it was announced that the exams would be cancelled, young people didn’t know what was going to happen.  Uncertainty can be really horrible to deal with and there are lots of emotions that get in the way of thinking clearly.

When I get anxious about something that I think might happen, I find my stomach gets itself tied in knots and it becomes easy to focus on everything that might go wrong.  I am not going to do as well as I thought, I’m not going to get that job or everything is going to end up in a mess.

When I am feeling like this, I find it very easy to get a bit snippy with people or to retreat and hide away so that no one can get anywhere near me. Recently I completed a university course and every time the results were due out everyone knew about it.  I went very quiet and folk wondered what they had done wrong!

Scientists tell us that cortisol helps us deal with stress. It works with parts of our brain to control our mood, motivation and fear. It is best known for our “fight, flight or freeze” reaction when something scary happens.  Normally this is a good thing as it protects us from danger.  However, when it builds up and doesn’t disappear it can have more negative impacts on our wellbeing.

There are lots of things we can do to help.  I have found that going for a walk can clear my head and make me feel as though I am in control again.  I wonder what works for you?

I have been asking myself how I would have reacted if I had been sitting my Highers this year. Nothing could have prepared any of us for what has happened over the past few months.

As we wait for the results to come out, the important thing to remember is that a piece of paper from the SQA does not define us. If you do well, congratulations.  If you don’t do so well, remember that there will be other ways, other opportunities and other chances.  If you are worried or upset then talk to someone or go for a walk like me.  Bottling it all up really won’t help.