EXAM STRESS 101: FOOD FOR THOUGHT, AND A QUICK WORKOUT
As the exam season nears, most of us sacrifice personal care bit by bit to deal with projects, papers and exams. Let’s face it: sleep and health are perhaps the first few things we give up, followed by a good mentality and our diet. I understand that what we want most apart from sleep in this time of the semester is the ability to focus, but ironically, all these things we give up for to deal with school stuff are actually what we need most to present our best selves. So before the exams actually hit you hard, here a a few tips to hopefully inspire you:
#1. Do NOT skip breakfast
People say this all the time – do not skip breakfast. This may sound like total BS to you, especially when you’ve been pulling all-nighters for a few days in a row, but I cannot stress the importance of having breakfast. Trust me, this is not jibber-talk. Breakfast is important, and let me explain why.
The most obvious reason is because it’s the first meal of your day, and after a night of sleep (or midnight-oil-burning), you need something to fill that empty stomach up and keep your blood sugar at the right level so you don’t pass out in the middle of an exam and spend all those late night studying sessions in vain. The second most important thing about having breakfast is the whole concept of waking up and preparing yourself to prepare for the day. This may sound unconvincing to you, but when you’re willing to wake up at the right hour and actually give an effort to make yourself breakfast, you’re telling your body to start working. Having – or preparing – breakfast helps you pick up the pace for the day which will eventually make you feel less miserable in this time of the year.
I’d suggest something quick and easy, such as a bowl of oats or cereal with yoghurt (I prefer greek yoghurt because they’re less sweet), topped with fruits such as berries and banana slices. You have the carbs to keep you going and fibres, antioxidants and vitamins to keep you healthy, all of which are vital nutrients for a strong body that would help you go through the toil. If you’re really too tired to make your own breakfast, a trusty cup of granola yoghurt from Starbucks, complete with an order of freshly cut fruits will do too. These food help you improve learning, memory, and cognitive processing, and also enhances problem solving, critical reasoning and information recall.
#2. Super foods for lunch and dinner
Again, I totally understand how easy it is to skip meals or simply just forget to have lunch or dinner when the study mode is full on. But then again, you need it, and here are a few foods that will help you focus and study better.
Salmon, like all other fatty fish such as tuna and sardines, are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which help build brain tissues, combat free radicals and eventually improve your memory and focus. You may not have the luxury or time to deal with fresh fish, but you can always opt for smoked salmon or canned tuna, all of which can be easily incorporated into sandwiches, salads or pastas. Avocados are also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Spinach is an amazing source of potassium and lutein, antioxidants and minerals that supports cognitive functioning and helps us think quickly and clearly. Baby spinach is perhaps the most popular among the selection of spinaches. I like them lightly dressed with lemon juice or a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or served as a salad bed for a sandwich. If you’re craving for variety, asparagus and rockets are also an amazing source of fibre, folate, vitamins, antioxidants and dietary fibre.
Eggs. I think eggs are one of the most underrated superfoods we eat and eat for granted. Yes, too much of them may raise your cholesterol levels, but they are also one of the only foods on the planet that has such a great variety of nutrients, namely, protein, potassium, vitamins and folic acid. Hard boiled eggs not only make a great breakfast, but when diced and mixed with mayo, they can be served as quick lunches in the form of egg sandwiches or Devil Eggs.
#3. Midday/Study Snack
Studying all day can be depressing (duh), and I am a firm believer of (healthy) foods as pick-me-ups. For the study-snacker, as tempting as the trail mix and cheetos are, I’d suggest that you instead opt for almonds and walnuts when you’re craving for some crunch. These bad boys are packed with omega 3 fatty acids and minerals that benefit memory, cognitive functioning and keep your brain cells healthy. Dark chocolate is also a do, as they are good sources of flavonoids and caffeine that increases blood flow to the brain and improves focus and concentration. 70% (or more) cocoa chocolates are optimal for they contain very little sugar and fat, which will only give you a sugar rush for a short while and immediately drop you into mood swings and fatigue.
Make yourself a “study-mix” of nuts, dark chocolate bits and dried fruit so that you have something healthy to nibble on when you study.
#4. When you need to work it, calm it, or just get a power nap
Working out is hard, and when comes exam season, with all the stress that comes along, working out is even harder. Perhaps you’re too tired to head to the gym or you simply do not have the time to trek all the way out, but there’s a remedy, thanks to the glorious invention of smartphone applications. I’m currently obsessed with the “7 Minute Workout” app which features 12 high intensity bodyweight exercises (see: jumping jacks, wall sits, push-ups, etc.) – 30 seconds per exercise, 10 seconds rest in between, all completable at home (or dorm). You may find this amateurish, but for a free app and given the stressful circumstances, this really does the trick – it’s also highly potent in making you sweat and giving your muscles that sting, which is oh-so-amazing. The endorphins you get after the workout will also help you stay awake during those long hours of studying.
Stress is an inevitable side effect of exams, and regardless of who you are, where you’re from and what you study, it still affects you. Stress and concentration are inherently two opposing factors of life (for most people). In other words, as one’s stress levels increase, one’s concentration level falls. At times of such, it’s terribly hard to focus and stay calm (well, I mean, who does?). I have a solution to this. If you do yoga regularly, try to roll out the mat for 30 minutes and do your regular Warriors, Downward-dogs and stretches to loosen your muscles and promote blood circulation. If you’re not familiar with yoga, I’d suggest downloading the “Calm.com” app on your smartphone, an app featuring guided meditation sessions ranging from 2 to 30 minutes for whenever you need a break from your day. Basically what this app does is it helps you relax and calm yourself.This is also optimal for when you need a power nap but can’t fall asleep. Trust me, I use this daily and find it incredibly useful because not only does my mind and body feel rejuvenated, it helps me fall asleep so much better.
#5. Most importantly, stay hydrated.
Water is important, and as much as we all say so, we often forget to hydrate ourselves. Water makes up around 85% of our brains, and it is essential in helping us study because dehydration will cause brain tissues to significantly shrink, therefore impairing our focus, memory and concentration. If normal, bottled water is too boring for you, I suggest squeezing the juice of an entire lemon into a litre jar of water, finished with a sprig of mint leaves. The zesty, citrusy flavour not only keeps you awake, but the Vitamin C it contains is a great antioxidant that keeps you healthy and immune from flu. Other fruits such as pineapples and crushed grapes and berries do the job too, so feel free to mix your very own study cocktail and drink up.