Its crunch time! I just wrote a piece on how to study smart, which in a lot ways ties into health. Studying smart entails not staying up too late to cram before an exam, taking enough breaks, and reviewing material consistently by starting early. In this post, I’ll elaborate on sleep, breaks, and a few other health tips all students should follow during exam time.
When I was a student, my health game was often not on point during exam week. In fact, exam week almost always sent my health plummeting down. It became like clockwork, until I decided to stop putting my body through such unnecessary extremities. It took me till fourth year to finally do this but I made a few simple changes and I was able to maintain a healthy lifestyle whilst immersed in my academics. I believe these changes helped me achieve more. Perhaps they will help you as well, provided you actually make an honest effort to incorporate some of these tips into your lives.
The tips that helped me most were, exercise, meditation, sleep, diet, study groups, frequent breaks, making time for friends, and temporarily cutting back on some extra curricular activities. I’ve talked about all below.
Before we get into it, please don’t frown at my suggestion to sleep and take more breaks. You might have heard it a million times and for good reason. Both sleep and taking regular breaks are the most important factors for your health, coupled with a balanced diet and exercise of course. Also, don’t leave anything for the last minute.
While a little bit of stress might be a good catalyst for you to get work done, too much stress can have severe long term health consequences. Besides, sometimes it’s very hard to focus when all you can think about is how stressed you are.
Come exam time, it becomes undeniably hard to remain mindful of your stress levels. Being in an environment where almost everyone is stressed only makes situations worse.
There are a number of ways that you could manage your stress, allowing you to remain mindful of your mental state during exam time. Here are a few ways you could keep that stress monster under wraps:
1. Start Revision Early
I mentioned this above as well but it is crucial to begin as early as you can. In the previous post about studying smart, I elaborated on this point. In essence, you should ideally revise your notes almost everyday. Spatial revision will help solidify the information into your long-term memory, making it easier for you when its go time.
2. Get into a Routine
Make a habit of studying during certain hours, relaxing during others, eating, sleeping, and so forth. Sticking to a schedule helps your brain develop habits, and once you develop a study habit, it will come naturally to you. This actually works. You can train your into thinking, “its focus time.” Again, this means you’ll have to start early. Routines also help you clear your mind, which in turn helps you prioritise.
3. Set Study Time Limits and Take Breaks
Your attention span diminishes quickly with strain. Be realistic and set time limits on your studying. No matter how long or short your limits are, be sure to make room for break time.
For instance, for every 30 minutes of studying, you get a 5 minute break. You can then return to your work feeling refreshed. Walking around and stretching during breaks is great for circulation and re-energising your brain with oxygen.
Once your study time is up, walk away. That’s it, just no more studying and no more thinking about studying. Your body needs to relax, and you need to avoid getting sick.
4. Set Realistic Goals
You can’t do it all, and that’s okay. It is important to understand your own limitations. Some people can study for longer durations than others. Everyone is different, so stay in touch with your limits and set your goals accordingly. This brings me to my next point, don’t compare yourself to your friends or to anyone.
5. Don’t Compare
Like I said, everyone studies at different paces and in different ways. Don’t burden yourself with how much or how little preparation your peers are doing. It will only stress you out even more. However, this does not mean that you cannot take tips from some of your friends if you believe that they are using effective studying methods.
6. Make Time for Other Things
It is crucial to treat yourself kindly. Exercising is one especially important activity you should engage in during your down time. You could even get an exercise buddy to make it fun. My friend and I started doing this in our fourth year of college when pressure was skyrocketing. We made a routine out of it. Workout, shower, eat, study. It helped a ton!
Exercise is just one example. You could spend time on your hobby if you like, or just read a book. Maybe watch your favourite show. It’s essential to take time off from the books and the exam fever.
7. Cut Back If You Need To
As a student, it is really easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of work you have to get done. As such, if you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, cut back on some things to clear up your schedule. This can be temporary, of course, until you have more time.
8. Hang Out With Non-Exam Mode Friends
Students in the same boat as you are probably equally stressed out, if not more. Might help to take a little break from them and go spend time with someone who is not taking an exam.
9. Ask For Help
There are times when everything comes crashing down in dramatic fashion. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help in such circumstances. In fact, don’t hesitate to ask for help in any circumstance. You’ll be surprised how nice it feels to have someone understand your troubles and offer a helping hand.
10. Join a Study Group
If you find yourself losing focus, or you’re simply unable to understand certain topics, go find people who are doing the same thing. Study groups can be a great way to learn quickly. You can explain ideas out loud, have discussions that widen your understanding and help you fully comprehend a concept. It can make the whole experience more engaging. Find people who share your interests and values.
11. You Could Try Meditating
This is actually more helpful than some of you might think. I used to think that mediation in the short-term couldn’t possibly reduce my stress. But I tried it and it did! I use the Waking Up app, by Sam Harris.
12. Avoid Cramming At All Costs!
If you’ve managed to form a stable routine, you’ve started your work early, you’re getting enough rest, you’ve set realistic goals, you’ve made space in your schedule, then you should be able to remain fairly calm before an exam.
The night before the exam is for sleep. The day before the exam is for review. It really won’t help you to stay up and endlessly stare at your books with hopeless cause. I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, “If you don’t know it by now, you’re never going to know it.”
Avoiding Stress: Diet and Sleep
Don’t underestimate the power of what you put into your body, and how much rest you get.
Peaceful Rest helps avoid stress. Here are a few tips on getting enough rest:
1. Take Naps!
Oh the power of a quick nap is unbeatable. 20-30 minutes is enough to recharge your batteries. Try and not nap too close to bed time. And the hard part, don’t nap for too long. Some people even like to take super power naps, 10 minutes long. Personally, I’ve found that the 30 minute naps work best.
2. Don’t Work Where You Sleep
Working in bed makes it harder for you to go to sleep. This is true, your brain gets wired or trained into thinking it is work time when you get in bed. Keep your study space and sleep space separate. This way you can get a full night of restful sleep.
3. Try To Get At Least 8 Hours
Anywhere between 7 to 9 hours is a good amount of sleep. I know people who need less, but as a student I would say at least 7 hours of sleep is essential for your memory. I understand that you may not be able to do so every night. Whenever possible, rest your mind and body. Lack of sleep has some seriously detrimental impacts on your health. Crankiness is one, inability to concentrate and retain information is another. The latter is critical to your success as a student.
4. Try And Not Pull All-Nighters
While you may think you’ve gotten a lot of learning done by staying up all night, in reality you’re unlikely to retain any of that information. This will seriously effect your ability to excel and do well on your exam.
5. Stop A few Hours Before Bed Time
It’s best to stop working a few hours before you sleep to give your brain sometime to calm down. During this time, try engaging in whatever activity calms you down, taking your mind off any demanding work. Ideally, try going to bed at the same time everyday to get used a bedtime routine.
Diet has more of a part to play in stress than you would think. Here are a few essential vitamins and minerals, and how they effect stress:
B vitamins: responsible for anxiety-easing and pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, and dopamine.
Foods include: chickpeas, lentils, yellowfin tuna, green beans, milk, plain yogurt, salmon, chicken, asparagus, oatmeal.
Magnesium: produces calming neurotransmitters and can act as a muscle relaxant.
Foods include: almonds, spinach, sunflower seeds, tofu.
Omega-3s: reduce inflammation, which can be triggered by stress, and a deficiency in these fatty acids has been linked to depression and mood swings.
Foods include: salmon, sardines, oysters, halibut, flax, walnuts
Vitamin C—when you’re stressed, your body produces cortisol, which can lead to belly fat and even brain cell damage. Vitamin C may help prevent this damage and keep the immune system strong.
Foods include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, orange juice, red and green peppers, strawberries.
1. Try And Avoid Alcohol, Nicotine, and Caffeine
As much as possible, avoid these substances, or at least reduce consumption. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which increase stress rather than decrease it. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks late at night especially. I am a coffee drinker, I usually stick to a cup or two a day. Drinking coffee is not bad for you, just don’t go over board. Energy drinks, however, are pretty terrible for your system. I’d say avoid those altogether.
When it come to alcohol, save that for an occasion where you don’t have to worry about exams. If you do want to have a couple of drinks, make sure it’s at least a few hours before you go to bed. Instead, you could drink fresh fruit juices, herbal teas, and water, to stay hydrated.
2. Eat Breakfast
Start with a good meal to give your body the energy it will need for the rest of the day. No matter what time you wake up, put something nutritious in your stomach before leaving your house.
3. Portion Control
Anything in excess is bad for you, including vegetables. Healthy Eating is not just a matter of what you eat, it’s also how much of what you should eat. Follow the link above for detailed information on this.
4. Snack Healthy
Better not to eat too much junk food. Every once in a while is fine. Usually eating fatty junk food reduces your energy levels.
Try and snack as healthy as possible during exam time. Apples or yogurt are easy snacks you can carry with you anywhere. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to be healthy and before you know it, you starting wanting to be healthy.
5. Don’t Skip Meals
There was a time when I would simply skip meals because I thought I didn’t have enough time. Bad idea. I ended up feeling tired all day, which diminished my productivity levels. Even if you eat a bunch of small meals throughout the day, it’s fine. Just make sure that you eat sufficiently to keep your mind and body energised.
6. Drink Lots of Water
Always carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. Staying hydrated increases your concentration span, and it keeps you from overeating.
7. Don’t Exam Stress Overeat
It’s okay to treat yourself. However, don’t take this too far by overeating due to stress. It won’t take your stress away. All you’ll do is fill your body with excess junk that actually doesn’t have nutritional value. As much as possible, avoid over indulging during exams.
8. But Indulge Sometimes!
You don’t have to be a health freak ALL OF THE TIME. Give yourself a reward for maintaining your health long-term and indulge in your favourite food. You can set this as a reward for achieving a goal, or overcoming a milestone.
9. Vitamin Supplements
If need be, take vitamins to supplement your diet. Do what you need to do in order to stay healthy.
And Finally, Plan a Post Exam Reward!
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