Staying Healthy When Stressed With Exams
In the UK it is currently exam season for anyone aged about 15 and above. And exams mean stress. A lot of it. I constantly overhear discussions of sleepless nights, anxiety attacks and emotional eating amongst my peers, and I have to admit it is very easy to fall prey to the typical coping methods of exam stress. I thought I would try and share some tips on how I manage to 'stay on track' with my lifestyle when I'm suddenly very busy and quite stressed!
It's so vital that you stay hydrated! Your body uses water for so many different things such as: transporting nutrients and oxygen into your body and transporting waste products out, controlling your temperature and aiding the functioning of your digestive system.
The average human body is 50-65% water and the brain is a crazy 85% water. So clearly being dehydrated is going to have serious negative implications on your ability to focus and learn. Studies have actually found that by the time you feel thirsty you have already lost 2% of body weight from water, resulting in a 10% cognitive decrease! So guzzle up!
I start the day by drinking 1 litre of water, I find it super refreshing. I also drink lots of low caffeine hot drinks such as green tea and peppermint tea during the day, they're more interesting than just water and they warm you up too. And mostly importantly, I take water with me wherever I go! I take a 750ml bottle to school with me each day and I make sure that I finish it before I get home. Sure, you go to the toilet a lot, but I'd prefer that if it makes me do better in class!
Everyone has different opinions on what is 'healthy' but one thing goes for sure: a balanced diet leads to the best cognitive functioning. 60% of your brain is fat, so clearly fat is an important aspect of the diet. Omega 3's are great for brain functioning- so eat lots of flax seed, chia seeds and hemp seeds!
Protein contains amino acids, vital for brain functioning, so ensure you're also eating adequate protein in your diet. Quinoa, oats, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, chickpeas and hummus are just some of the plant based protein sources you could try!
And then carbohydrates are a great source of quick burning energy, with the glucose being rapidly used for quick burst of energy. Get in your carbs from wholegrains, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables. I especially find bananas to be the perfect pre exam snack- they give me such an energy boost. My Dad swears by bananas before exams, and considering he got 1st class honours at university, I'll believe him!
And then of course there are all the nutrients necessary in a balanced diet, so ensure you don't get run down and low in things such as iron, B vitamins, zinc, etc. If you find yourself getting very tired and run down- visit your doctor for a blood test and check all your levels are okay. If you're low in a particular nutrient you can look to take a supplement to get you through exams and ensure it doesn't affect your performance! Iron is a typical shaky point for teenage girls, so if you're constantly tired and weak, definitely get it checked out. Lentils and molasses are just two of the many plant based sources of iron that can boost you up.
So other than lots of water and a balanced diet, what else is important food wise? Trying to avoid 'junk food'. Eating lots of processed and sugary foods will sap you of your energy, making you feel tired and sick. It'll affect your natural sleeping patterns and cause energy highs and lows. It's important not to rely on junk food for an energy boost but instead aim to fill your body with nutritious foods.
When you're really busy and stressed most people don't want to exercise. I get that! But it's all about fitting it into your lifestyle. A 20 minute jog before breakfast 3-4 times a week won't get in the way of your study and it will help you feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. Exercise is great for helping you concentrate and it's also a real mood booster, plus it makes you sleep better too. Try and fit it in!
Also- take breaks from studying to go on walks. Walk to a friend's house for a study session, go for a walk around the park as a study break and soak up some sunshine! Being stuck indoors all day isn't fun, so take the dog for a walk and soak up some vitamin D!
It's tempting to become a hermit when you have exams but I definitely don't recommend it. You can't spend the entire month of exam season in your room studying non stop, you need to have fun too! For me, Friday and Saturday nights are a no study zone. After 6pm I am free to go out with friends and actually LIVE a little. Having that balance makes a real difference to your wellbeing and stops you feeling depressed and isolated. Plus who says you have to study alone? Form study groups and study together, that way you can moan about your upcoming exams and motivate each other. Perfect!
Unless you're like me and cooking is your #1 hobby, chances are you are finding yourself not wanting to study, spend your free time cooking and then study again. The last thing you want in your study break is to have to spend the entire time making dinner when you could be watching tv! This is where pre preparation comes in.
For breakfast- overnight oats are a joy. Just mix it up, put it in the fridge and the next day, you just need to eat it! For lunch, cook a big lot of quinoa and make some falafel and you can throw together a quick falafel salad in no time. And who says you can't have the same dinner 3 days in a row?! Make a big batch of pasta sauce and all you need to do is cook some pasta for dinner and hey presto, dinner in 10 minutes!
Snack don't have to be hard either- make sure you have lots of fruit around the house, chop up some carrot sticks ready to dip into hummus, make little pots of trail mix and infuse bottles of water with fruit and have them ready to go!
Exams suck, we all know it, but it is possible to survive them. Just think how great summer is going to be!