The stress on high school graduates is “overwhelming” and should be reduced, according to a PhD graduate in biological psychiatry.

Dr Christina Phassouliotis, whose PhD was on stress and mental illness, says there is too much expectation on young adults finishing high school.

“It’s very overwhelming, transitioning between an adolescent and an adult,” she told Neos Kosmos.

“There’s a lot of demand, a lot of competition, and a lot of expectation to be at a certain level.

“And a lot of kids still haven’t experienced life in order to make those decisions.”

With year 12 results being released across the country this week, Dr Phassouliotis said students needed to be encouraged by their families, rather than burdened with expectations.

“Even though they don’t know what they want to do, they will pave their own pathway over time,” she said.

She said excessive amounts of the human stress hormone, cortisol, can affect the brain’s ability to cope with other confronting high-pressure situations.

“We need to be aware of what’s causing us stress, and we can then change our ways, in order to control it,” she said.

“That’s the most important thing that a lot of people don’t realise, that their way of life is causing them stress.”

But she said the brain’s “plastic” nature means people can reverse the negative impacts of stress.

“By minimising our exposure to physical stress, i.e. excessive study and/or work, poor eating habits, lack of exercise etc., we can automatically place ourselves in a better mental state to deal with emotional stress.”