coping with big changes - leaving secondary school

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Transitions are moments in life that involve moving from one stage to another – they might include leaving school; starting new relationships; or moving out of home.

One major transition that most young people experience relates to what happens after leaving secondary school, and this can bring significant changes and challenges.

Everyone responds differently to change. Some people find it exciting and full of opportunities while others feel stressed and overwhelmed, or a combination of these things. Even changes that you’re looking forward to can cause some worries. Whatever your reaction is, it’s OK to feel this way.

For many people, there has already been a lot of change and uncertainty due to COVID-19. This can add to any stress and worry, and make these big changes and decisions feel even more challenging. 

The good news is that with the right strategies, planning and support, managing big changes can get easier.


Download our fact sheet on leaving secondary school

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Leaving school

Leaving secondary school is a big deal and you might already have some plans for what you’re going to do. You might be starting university, training or further study; looking for work; or starting a new job.

No matter which pathway you choose, there are things you can do to give yourself a sense of control and help you cope with any stress.  

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Common responses and concerns

The uncertainty that big changes bring can be hard to deal with. Some common concerns that people experience with the change from secondary school can include:

  • making friends in a new setting
  • worries about how COVID-19 will affect studies/work
  • figuring out course structures or new workplace environments
  • juggling commitments, such as work, family, friends and study
  • meeting different expectations and obligations (e.g. meeting deadlines)
  • adapting to new living arrangements (e.g. moving out of home)
  • wondering if you have made the right decisions
  • managing finances and financial pressures.


So what can you do?

There are lots of things you can do to support yourself during these times.  Learning some strategies can help you feel better prepared to cope with any worry or stress.

  • learn about stress and your early warning signs. Stress is our body’s way of reacting to change, there are things you can do that can help you cope
  • make a list of things you can do to support yourself. Things that you enjoy and that help you de-stress
  • notice your unhelpful thoughts. If your worries are getting out of control, try an app like Worry Time
  • reach out to friends, family or professional help for support. Talking things through can help you feel supported
  • accept that some things won’t go to plan, but can give us opportunities for growth
  • be kind to yourself. Giving yourself a hard time only makes things worse.

No matter what’s going on in your life, it’s a good idea to look after your headspace. Our tips for a healthy headspace can support you to live your life in a positive and meaningful way and help you bounce back when times are tough.

These are things like staying connected with family and friends, building your skills for tough times, staying active, getting enough sleep, eating well and cutting back on alcohol and other drugs.

Practical tips

Preparing for change can help it feel more manageable. Check out our practical tips to help:

  • problem solve: Identify what's troubling you and name it. This helps you figure out what's in your control and find a possible solution. It also helps you let go of what's out of your control
  • set achievable goals: At times, your goals can seem big and overwhelming, breaking them down into manageable chunks can help you take those first steps
  • create a routine: Routines bring order and predictability to our lives. This can help at all times, but especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Remember to include activities that you enjoy

If you are aged between 15-25 years old, headspace Work or Study can help you navigate your way through work or study with free online or phone support. They can help support you with transitioning from school to work or further study with:

  • study and enrolment support
  • career planning and mentoring
  • balancing your mental health and wellbeing with work or study
  • navigating Centrelink or other government support options
  • job search and job applications
  • resume and cover letter preparation.

There are also a number of articles full of tips you might want to have a look at.

Signs you might need extra support

Big changes can be really stressful and we all need extra support sometimes. Knowing your early warning signs can help you reach out sooner and get the right support for you. Some things to look out for are:

  • changes in mood – feeling sadder, more anxious or more irritable 
  • changes in behaviour – becoming withdrawn, being aggressive or an increased use of alcohol or other drugs 
  • changes in relationships – arguing more with friends, family or partners  
  • changes in appetite – eating more or less than usual  
  • changes in sleep patterns – not sleeping enough, or sleeping too much  
  • changes in coping – feeling overwhelmed or tired of life  
  • changes in thinking – experiencing more unhelpful thoughts.


Where to get help

Though it can be hard reaching out to others to let them what’s going on for you, it can help you feel supported, less isolated, and it can be the beginning of a valuable support network. Whether you are speaking to a trusted friend, family member, Elder or counsellor, it’s entirely up to you what you feel comfortable sharing. You might just want to say you’re having a tough time.

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Youth support services

headspace: Find your nearest centre or contact eheadspace, our phone and online service

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800


SANE Australia: 1800 187 263

Lifeline: 13 11 14. A 24-hour crisis service.

Talk to your local doctor / General Practitioner (GP) Or you can search for a health service and GP on healthdirect.



Other useful resources

Year 13 has a number of resources on work and study.   

headspace professional-led group chats hosts many discussions for young people with clinicians on a range of topics. You can join the chat or view the transcripts.

headspace Online Communities hosts weekly discussions for young people by young people. You can join the chat or view the transcripts.   

headspace interactive activities can help you reflect on your needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. These include unhelpful thoughts,



The headspace Content Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 12 December 2023.


Get professional support

If you feel you need help there are a range of ways we can support you.