The days are finally brighter and we are all looking forward to summer. Enjoying the great weather, beach, mojitos by the pool and holidays. But for students, it’s exam time and the next few weeks can be full of stress, worry and angst. When you are busy cramming it can be all too easy to forget to exercise self-care. However, this is probably the time when you need to take care of your mental and physical health the most.
Here are some tips on how to keep yourself healthy and well during the exam period.
Maintain A Healthy Diet
Eating a well-balanced diet can help keep you energised and focused.
It may be tempting to grab fast foods during this time but it is best to avoid sugary and processed foods. Consuming sugar causes a rapid release of dopamine. Whilst this is a chemical which makes you feel good a crash inevitably follows the dopamine spike. This crash can also lead to mood swings, feelings of depression and anxiety, especially in times of stress.
Instead, your self-care plan should include choosing whole foods. These provide a steady stream of energy without the crash associated with sugar consumption such as:
- Fish: Choose fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. This are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. Omega-3s have been shown to improve cognitive function, memory, and focus.
- Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are a great source of vitamin E, which can improve cognitive function. Walnuts, in particular, are high in omega-3s and help improve memory and concentration.
- Berries: Berries are full of antioxidants, which help protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals.
- Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which also improves cognitive function and reduce stress. Just be sure to choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content.
- Leafy Greens: Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential for brain health.
Get enough sleep
Another vital part of self-care is getting enough rest. A lack of sleep can cause fatigue, lack of focus, and decreased productivity.
You should aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This can of course not be so easy when you are working late and worrying. But here are some tips which might help:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps your body regulate its natural cycle making it easier to fall asleep at night.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine for example by reading a book, listening to music or taking a warm bath.
- Avoid consuming caffeine, nicotine or alcohol in the hours before bedtime. These are all stimulants and can interfere with your ability to not only fall asleep but to stay asleep.
- Turn off electronic devices when you go to bed and do not use your phone, computer or tablet for at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by these devices can also disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle.
- Make sure that your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark and do not study in bed as this can make it harder for your brain to associate your bed with sleep.
Exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress and anxiety, and it can also improve your focus and concentration. Even a 20-30 minute walk can help improve your mood and energy levels. You may feel that this is robbing you of study time but, given exercise’s ability to clear your mind you will actually be better placed to study after exercising.
Drinking plenty of water can help keep you alert and focused during the exam period. Avoid sugary drinks and caffeine as they can cause energy crashes and dehydration.
It’s important to take regular breaks during your study sessions. Taking a 10-15 minute break every hour can help improve your productivity and focus.
Practice relaxation techniques
Stress and anxiety can negatively impact your health during the exam period. Introducing relaxing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, havening or yoga as part of your self-care can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or a counsellor if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed during the exam period.
Remember that you are never alone and there are always people willing and able to help. Together you can develop coping strategies to get you through these difficult weeks.
Also, remember that your results do not define who you are and that life will offer you many different opportunities – you just have to be ready to take them.
We wish you the very best of luck for your exams.
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