Prioritizing ourselves as well as our academics

It’s the most wonderful time of the year ... after we get through one of the worst.

Exam period can be an endless cycle of stress and anxiety that sees many of us prioritize academics over everything else. It might seem more productive to spend an extra hour at the library to cram rather than sleeping for an extra hour sleep or hitting the gym. But letting health and well-being fall to the wayside can actually prove detrimental to our academic performance during this hectic time of year.

Not only do we increase our chances of becoming sick, we decrease our level of alertness and mental productivity when we ignore sleep, nutrition and exercise. There is also that unwelcome experience of entering the holiday season feeling like a zombie.

We asked Lifestyle Consultant and Personal Trainer Pam Fountas to share why it’s important to be mindful of our health decisions during exam period.

Sleep

Fountas said we are actually decreasing our productivity when we try to get through exam period on little sleep.

“Mental productivity and level of alertness are not nearly where they could be if we were getting enough sleep. We have to read and re-read paragraphs and chapters because our level of retention goes way down, affecting your academic performance.”

Students may be able to pull off functioning on little sleep for a night or two, but it won’t last the whole period. Also, coffee doesn’t replace the necessity for sleep.

By making sure they’re getting enough sleep so that they feel rested, students will optimize their time and performance.

Nutrition

Convenience and long sessions at the library see people grabbing unhealthy snacks on the go that don’t exactly complement a balanced diet.

A big thing to be careful of, whether or not you’re making poor choices, is the amount of food you consume. It can spike your blood sugar levels.

“When you’re not eating a balanced diet, you will experience highs then lows in your energy levels,” said Fountas.

“By not making healthy choices, your energy and alertness will be negatively affected.”

For snacks, Fountas recommended pairing a clean carbohydrate with a protein.

Examples: Veggies and hummus, fruit with natural nuts, banana with peanut butter, whole grains. The pairing helps to balance energy levels because the protein takes longer to digest, keeping you full and nourished longer.

Realistically, many of these options are available at food places on campus, so consider the benefits of grabbing the healthy snack next time you’re at the vending machine.

Exercise

Fountas said students who don’t believe they have enough time to exercise during exams need to be honest with themselves about how they are budgeting their time. Students might be procrastinating in ways that they don’t even realize.

“You are actually buying yourself more time by making smart choices about your health. It can be as little as a 20-minute run, but you will actually feel that much better and put more time into your studies.”

Fountas also said students should stay away from all-or-nothing thinking. Just because you may not be able to fulfill your regular exercise routine, doesn’t mean you need to abandon it completely.

“There are 24 hours in the day and it is up to us to choose how we want to spend them. Taking 30 minutes out of the day for yourself will serve you so much better in the long run.”

How to cope with stress

In the moment: “One of the simplest things you can do is to bring awareness to your breath. Practice the technique of mindful breathing. Just take a few deep breaths in a moment of anxiety and you should feel yourself relax,” Fountas said.

Big picture: Fountas said students should be clear on what they’re expecting of themselves from their academics.

“Make an action, feel prepared and keep some perspective,” Fountas said. To help keep stress in check, “try and take 10 to 15 minutes out of each day to tap into the outside world. It can be exercise, a phone call home, or a walk downtown to remind yourself that there is a world bigger than exam period.”

So by making wise health choices this exam period, we will maximize our potential for academic success. There is also the chance that we can emerge feeling like the healthy human beings we were before exams started.

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