How to look after yourself during the exam season

Keep healthy to ace your exams!

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Image courtesy of Alexis Brown via Unsplash

It’s that time of year again. The pressure of mounting deadlines and looming exams leaves you feeling guilty if you’re anything but chained to your desk, poring over books and desperately trying to cram information into your brain.

Suddenly, it’s 4 am: surrounded by empty coffee cups and discarded KitKat wrappers, it dawns on you that you haven’t left your room – or showered – in days. Not only that, but you come to realise that you’ve been re-reading the same page for the past two hours and can’t recollect a single word or fact mentioned. All you’ve got to show for hours of supposed-work is a beautifully highlighted page of A4.

Exhausted and pushed to your limits, you break down, sobbing into a cold Pot Noodle, and contemplating running away from uni to join the circus.

Clowns are supposed to be miserable, right?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Being a student these days is tough. Forced to negotiate the combination of extortionate fees, a competitive job market and an educational culture that equates success solely with high grades, it’s no wonder that we often feel that we have no other option but to devote every waking minute to assignments and revision.

Ultimately, however, this is not healthy for your body or your mind. Nor, realistically, will it lead to the best exam results. Instead, it’s important to take some time out every now and again to rest, relax and look after yourself. You shouldn’t feel ashamed.  Practicing self-care, in the ways I outline, will help provide you and your brain with the stamina and energy to do your best.

Sleep

“Sleep!” I hear you cry. “Sleep! During exam season? That is a luxury afforded only to babies and mere humans! I don’t have time for sleep!”

Despite all-nighters seemingly being an inherent part of student culture, sleep is actually a very important factor in exam success. Research from Harvard University has found that when we’re sleep deprived, we’re not able to focus our attention as well and therefore cannot learn as efficiently.

Secondly, sleep itself plays an important role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information. If you’re trying to cram in a year’s recommended reading two weeks before your exam, you definitely need to try and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Most healthy adults – that includes students! – need between seven and nine hours of sleep to function at their best.

If that still doesn’t convince you, studies have suggested that those who sleep for around eight hours each night are likely to get ill less often, find it easier to control their weight, and even have better sex lives…

Food

I admit, suggesting that you take time out from revision to cook for yourself might seem a little, well, barmy. But hear me out.  Although surviving on Galaxy counters and cappuccinos from Costa might seem like a good idea when time is of the essence, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that that’s not the healthiest thing to do long term.

Too-high sugar consumption can create spikes in your blood sugar, something which, in turn, can leave you feeling thirsty, tired and constantly needing the toilet. Not exactly conducive to a productive revision session.

And although such foods might initially give you a quick burst of energy, this will soon wear off, potentially leaving you feeling foggy headed, zoned out and weak. I guess that explains the page staring…

Don’t worry, though, preparing healthy food needn’t be time consuming. Picking up some microwave rice, a bag of stir fry veg and some chicken from SPAR can create a well-balanced meal in a matter of minutes.

You might balk at the cost, but when you compare that to the continuous stream of coffee that you would otherwise need to stay awake, it might not seem too pricey after all! Other quick, nutritious and filling suggestions include making a batch of pasta salad or couscous and veggies at the start of the week, which you can then just grab on-the-go.

Exercise

Sparing the time to go to the gym or train with your team might seem impossible during exam season.  But exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be prolonged activity. Something as short as a five-minute stroll may be enough to clear your head or calm you down when you feel overwhelmed.

A longer walk, meanwhile, can provide the opportunity to clarify your thoughts or come up with new ideas. If you feel guilty about leaving your desk for so long, you could always make a recording of your notes to listen to whilst you’re out.

More intensive forms of exercise can also prove invaluable, with the release of endorphins helping to reduce stress and leave you feeling refreshed and happy. And, good news: if you’re as unfit as I am, a quick jog need only take five minutes – any longer than that and a defibrillator would be required.

Socialise

No, I’m not suggesting you abandon your revision and head on out to Sugar or Dalton’s every night of the week. That’s probably not a good idea. What is a good idea, however, is taking time out from your work every now and again to have a chat and a cuppa with your friends or housemates. This will help to reassure them that you’re still alive and haven’t become a permanent hermit.

More importantly, chatting to someone else can help to give you perspective, making a seemingly unsurmountable workload feel more manageable, or serve as a reminder that friends and family mean more to you than any grade on a piece of paper.

Alternatively, commiserating with someone who’s just as stressed can help you to feel less alone in your misery!

Have Fun

Finally, try and make time for something you enjoy. Whether that’s catching up with a quick episode of Black Mirror, spending half an hour on FIFA, or simply taking a long, hot shower, spending time doing the things you enjoy is not something to feel guilty about.

Not only can it help you to feel relaxed and recharged, but it also provides the opportunity to feel human again, something which, ultimately, is easily overlooked during exam season.

If you’re still having difficulty justifying taking a break from your work load, you can tell yourself that, in the long run, it is much more sensible than some of your more dubious, clown-based options…