Eat, sleep your way to exam suc­cess

Lesotho Times - - Health -

FOR mil­lions of stu­dents across the globe, ex­ams mean a time of gloom and doom.

In­creased work­loads, pres­sure to suc­ceed and the num­ber of hours spent study­ing can send stress lev­els through the roof.

And the knock-on ef­fect to their health and grades, can be cat­a­strophic.

A sur­vey by chil­dren’s char­ity Child­line re­vealed 96 per­cent of the 1,300 stu­dents ques­tioned felt anx­ious about ex­ams and re­vi­sion.

In ad­di­tion, 59 per­cent said the pres­sure to do well was one of the pri­mary trig­gers of stress.

When it comes to tack­ling exam sea­son, one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to re­duce stress lev­els is en­sur­ing you get enough rest.

Sleep ex­pert Dr Ne­rina Ram­lakhan said giv­ing your body and mind a chance to re­lax and re­cu­per­ate will not only im­prove con­cen­tra­tion, but will also help re­duce anx­i­ety.

Here, she re­veals her top tips for help­ing stu­dents pre­pare for ex­ams and lower stress lev­els...

Avoid nu­tri­tional stress Stu­dents need to eat par­tic­u­larly healthily dur­ing re­vi­sion and exam pe­ri­ods and stay well hy­drated.

So, as hard as it may be, avoid take­aways and microwavable meals and cook fresh, bal­anced meals.

Snack­ing is fine if you are con­sum­ing healthy snacks.

Eat­ing well will main­tain blood sugar lev­els so that your brain is able to ab­sorb in­for­ma­tion.

Stu­dents should also cut out caf­feine af­ter 2pm to op­ti­mise sleep qual­ity.

It is a huge myth that drink­ing cof­fee and ‘pulling an all nighter’ will help us to re­vise for ex­ams.

Take regular breaks Our abil­ity to con­cen­trate runs in cy­cles of roughly 90 min­utes.

Af­ter this time the work­ing mem­ory in the pre­frontal cor­tex shuts down and we stop re­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion.

Even a five to ten minute break can help to ‘un­load’ the work­ing mem­ory so we come back to the task with re­newed fo­cus.

Af­ter 90 min­utes of work or re­vi­sion make sure you get up and move around. Go to get a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit and a glass of wa­ter, or sim­ply get up and stretch for five min­utes.

Don’t check emails or go on the in­ter­net dur­ing your breaks or this de­feats the aim of giv­ing your brain a com­plete rest.

Get good qual­ity sleep We should al­ways prac­tice good sleep hy­giene rou­tinely, how­ever this be­comes even more im­por­tant dur­ing stress­ful pe­ri­ods, and times when we are push­ing our­selves to our lim­its, be it phys­i­cally or men­tally.

Get used to wind­ing down be­fore you go to bed by read­ing or watch­ing some­thing easy.

Don’t study in bed and have at least one hour free from tech­nol­ogy — Face­book and Twit­ter in­cluded - be­fore get­ting into bed.

Stu­dents should also learn to power nap if they don’t al­ready.

Re­search shows that even a just five to ten min­utes at some time be­tween 2pm and 5pm can sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance cog­ni­tive per­for­mance.

Take a deep breath It is as sim­ple as that. If you find your­self feel­ing over­whelmed and anx­ious, stop what­ever you are do­ing, put your bare feet on the ground and take a deep breath from your belly.

As you ex­hale, imag­ine you are blow­ing out a can­dle flame and your ex­hale will be longer and slower than usual.

This has an im­me­di­ate has a calm­ing and stress-re­liev­ing ef­fect.

Re­peat this a few times and you could even work some phys­i­cal move­ment into this, such as a stretch or squat­ting as you breathe in.

En­gage the brain An­other rea­son to take regular breaks and change ac­tiv­i­ties is to en­gage other parts of the brain.

To en­sure you use dif­fer­ent parts of the brain, do some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent dur­ing your break.

Try some yoga for ex­am­ple or teach your­self a new skill such as jug­gling or hula-hoop­ing.

Keep to a phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity though, watch­ing tele­vi­sion or check­ing so­cial me­dia on your phone won’t have the same ef­fect, as they won’t empty the work­ing mem­ory.

Be aware of your body Be aware of your body and well­be­ing dur­ing exam sea­son and don’t ig­nore un­usual symptoms.

If you start to suf­fer with is­sues such as headaches, in­som­nia, IBS, ap­petite changes, skin prob­lems, tear­ful­ness, anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion then th­ese could be signs that you aren’t cop­ing.

All though they can be put down to stress and they may be tem­po­rary, they are still is­sues that need ad­dress­ing or they could be­come worse. If ad­dressed they are also less likely to have a neg­a­tive im­pact on that im­por­tant exam.

Lean on your sup­port net­work Stop and think who your sup­port net­work is and then re­mem­ber to use them.

Talk to them reg­u­larly as they could give you some great ad­vice and feed­back that could be in­valu­able.

Re­mem­ber that some of th­ese will have been in the same sit­u­a­tion as you pre­vi­ously and may have learnt some use­ful lessons they can pass on to you.

Also have good sup­port strate­gies that you can do in­de­pen­dently, such as go­ing to the gym or walk­ing the dog.

Con­front worst case sce­nario We can be­come over­whelmed when we don’t al­low our­selves to con­front the anx­i­eties and fears that may be lurk­ing around in our sub­con­scious.

So bring them into your con­scious mind by get­ting a pen­cil and pa­per and brain­storm­ing all of the things you are afraid might hap­pen if things don’t go the way you hope.

Re­ally use your imag­i­na­tion even if it feels a bit ridicu­lous.

And then ask your­self: live with this out­come?’

Or, ‘what could I do if I don’t pass this exam?’

Again, write out ev­ery pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tive op­tion you can think of and build con­tin­gency plans.

Hav­ing a ‘ plan B’ will re­lieve that over­whelm­ing feel­ing so you feel less stressed and can take more in­for­ma­tion in.

‘Could I

Man­age per­fec­tion­ism Recog­nise your lim­its so you’re not too hard on your­self.

If you stop and think about your lim­its you will no­tice if you are go­ing over them.

We can all be as­pi­ra­tional and we can all strive to achieve the best but we should also be re­al­is­tic.

Learn how to ask for help and learn how to say no when the pres­sure starts to reach un­healthy lev­els, even if you are telling your­self no. Do­ing your best is all that peo­ple will ex­pect from you and you can be con­tent with your­self if you have tried your best, but we all have our lim­its that we must recog­nise.

Give your­self a pat on the back Ac­knowl­edge when you’ve done some­thing well and give your­self some­thing to look for­ward to ev­ery day — even if it’s some­thing small like tak­ing time to lis­ten to your favourite up­beat piece of mu­sic.

Stay op­ti­mistic even when things look bad and take time out to no­tice even the small things that have gone well, e.g. get­ting a seat on a train, a nice cup of tea or a nice text mes­sage from some­one.

Re­search shows that peo­ple who prac­tice this sort of ex­er­cise are health­ier and more able to cope with stress and ad­ver­sity.

— Daily Mail.

Giv­ing your body and mind a chance to re­lax and re­cu­per­ate will not only im­prove con­cen­tra­tion, but will also help re­duce anx­i­ety.

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