As teenagers head off for their first GCSE exams, one Sussex college has teamed up with the YMCA to launch the #NoStressSuccess campaign.
The campaign, which coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week, aims to help youngsters reduce stress and look after their mental health during exam season.
The Greater Brighton Metropolitan College - known as The MET - called on 'exam survivors' from Horsham, Steyning, Littlehampton and Hassocks to share their advice and stories.
Gabrielle, 19, is studying for a BTEC in travel and tourism, after earning three GCSEs at The Littlehampton Academy.
She said: "I stressed out completely all the way through Year 11. On GCSE results day I was so nervous and panicky.
"I studied really hard for them and when I got my results I was heartbroken.
“I had been told that you couldn’t do anything without five GCSEs so I really panicked as I only had three.
"Now I know GCSEs aren’t everything. I’m doing a college course I absolutely love and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
"Two years ago, I thought I wanted to go to university and study aviation management. The course I’m doing is equivalent to three A-Levels so would get me into university.
"But now I want to work as cabin crew when I leave college – and I’ve just been offered a cabin crew position at EasyJet!
"It is perfectly fine and normal to change your mind and ambitions around what you want to do.”
Sam, 17, is studying aircraft maintenance, after earning six GCSEs at Tanbridge House School, Horsham.
He said: "If you don’t get all your GCSEs you have nothing to worry about. I came to college missing one of the GCSEs I needed - others came missing a few more pieces, if not most of them, and others arrived with stellar grades that far exceeded mine.
"It mainly comes down to showing you are willing and enthusiastic. Grades are just numbers really.
"If you believe in what you want to do, honestly there shouldn’t be anything that can stop you.
"When I found out I didn’t pass all my GCSEs I must admit I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t get English, but the college was really understanding and explored options with me.”
Charlotte, 17, s studying motorsport engineering, after earning seven GCSEs at Downlands Community School, in Hassocks.
She said: "GCSEs were very stressful and they don’t need to be. People make it so much more of a deal than it ever actually is.
"When you look at your CV when you’re older, employers don’t really care what you got in art if you’re going off to do something completely different.
"Don’t over-stress it because it’s just so unnecessary and really bad for your mental health. Success after secondary school is being happy and doing what you love - I know I do.
"Even being the only girl on my course I still fit in. I get along with all the boys and it’s great having competitions with them to see who can do things better!
"When you come to college you relax. The teachers are phenomenal, not just as teachers but as friends as well - they’re always there for emotional support and to have a laugh.
"I have no idea where I’ll be in 20 or 30 years’ time yet. Being on a course like this means I’ve got so many options to choose from.
"I could go to uni or do an apprenticeship or even go travelling with a race team. It’s really door-opening and means you can chop and change your mind and do whatever you want."
Ryan, 17, is studying music production after earning nine GCSEs at Steyning Grammar School.
He said: "What I found really difficult when I was revising for my GCSEs was how to manage my time as I left it too late to start.
"Sometimes I felt like the world was against me. By the time Easter was over, everyone was stressing out.
"But being at college is all-round less stressful than being at school. I don’t feel pressure not to make a mistake. They say make mistakes and learn from them and move on.
"People’s attitude to a course like mine are generally negative but that’s because they don’t really understand what it involves or where it can lead to.
"If you’re a friend or a parent of someone who is choosing to do something slightly different than most people at college, the last thing that person wants to hear is 'you’re not going to be able to make a living out of it' or 'it’s not worth doing'.
"Demoralising them and making them do something else isn’t going to make them do any better.
"The main thing for me, as cheesy as it sounds, is follow exactly what you want to do, because there’s no point being stuck in something for the next two or three years that you really don’t enjoy.
"Don’t spend the next two years doing A-Levels if you’re not going to enjoy it. You might as well spend the next two years doing something you enjoy and you’ll get something out of."
#NoStressSuccess was organised after data gathered by YMCA Right Here, a health and well-being project that delivers exam stress workshops in Sussex secondary schools, showed a 40 per cent increase in requests for its services over the past three years.
And the number of students asking for post-workshop support tripled in the same period.
The campaign's website includes frank accounts about fainting due to exam stress, being separated from other students at school due to anxiety and feeling ‘sad and heartbroken’ on GCSE results day.
It also offers an online Study Stress Survival Guide and a visual guide to the Four Zones of Stress - showing how to identify and manage symptoms and when to seek different kinds of everyday and specialist support.
Chas Walker, CEO of the Sussex and Surrey YMCA DownsLink Group, said: "More and more young people are experiencing symptoms of stress and other mental health issues as a result of the pressure associated with GCSEs.
"Exam stress has increased as a reported concern for young people accessing our services over the past five years – recorded levels in 2016/17 were almost double what they were back in 2012/13.
"Reported levels of anxiety around the transition from secondary school to college and the workplace has also increased.
"The YMCA is excited to be working with The MET College on this important initiative.”
Pictures by Ayla Pilsworth