How I Coped Better With Exams This Year
After taking 2 years off University study to work and travel, I am back this year doing my Postgrad dip in Human Nutrition and working towards my Human Nutrition Masters. This means the dreaded E word – EXAMS.
Completing these exams with the confidence of getting a grade I was proud of was ONE my goals. The OTHER goal however, was to do this without compromising my well being.
You see, despite it being a “nutrition” degree, it was during my undergrad years (5 years ago) that I got myself into some the worst health states I can remember, both mentally and physically.
Today I want to share with you firstly, the mistakes I made during those first years of university study, and secondly, the changes I made this year to prevent my health from suffering during this high stress, high work-load period.
MISTAKE I MADE DURING MY UNDERGRAD DEGREE
MISTAKE NUMBER 1
I started relying heavily on caffeine and artificial sweeteners. Specifically, Coke Zero (cringe) became one of my fluid sources during the exam period. It got the point where my coke zero was replacing water, and I could go through over half a large bottle a day.
At the time, I didn’t truly understand the issues with this habit.
We were being told that artificial sweeteners were harmless (which I now strongly s disagree on ). It had zero calories, (which I figured would stop weight gain) and I became incredibly desensitised to the caffeine, not truely understand the effects this was having on my adrenal system.
MISTAKE NUMBER 2
When it came to exercising, if I didn’t have energy or the perceived time to go for a decent run or workout, I considered it not worth it, and would just keep studying. There was no “something’s better than nothing” mentality. It was all or nothing.
This lead to this horrible cycle of waking up exhausted, deciding I didn’t have time to go for a run, getting straight into work, working till dinner time, having a bad sleep, and waking up exhausted again the next day.
MISTAKE NUMBER 3
I convinced myself I needed to snack ALL the time for my brain to function at its best. And it seemed acceptable based on the “eat little and often” principle we were being taught. But snacking became an escape for me, and began to do what I call “procrasta-eating” (eating to avoid the task at hand) and stress-eating.
Despite my efforts NOT to gain weight weight during this exam period, the excessive intakes of caffeine and artificial sweeteners, stress snacking, and lack of exercise would really take its toll. I’d feel horrible in my body, and had this feeling of exhaustion that seemed seemed to lift.
So much has changed since those undergrad years…I have a developed much better understanding of the effect of caffeine and artificial sweeteners on our body, and have learned the art of eating and exercising intuitively.
So this year, I made a conscious effort to correct each one of the mistakes I made 5 years ago, and now I want to share with you my top tips for looking after yourself during high workload periods…
WHAT I DID DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR
1. FLUID INTAKE
Stop relying on caffeine, and/or artificial sweeteners.
My rule for these exams was one coffee in the morning, after that just herbals teas or water with lemon.
When you are already stressed your adrenal glands will be producing cortisol. Caffeine also stimulates cortisol release, which therefore puts even MORE pressure on your adrenals glands. And if this persist, you can give your self a condition called adrenal fatigue.
I really encourage you to watch your caffeine around stressful work times.
Sure, have some coffee if you need a pick me up, but if you’ve noticed caffeinated drinks are starting to replace water, or your having over 3-4/day, do a rain check, and focus on getting more of your fluid intake from water.
Make movement each day non-negotiable, and remove the pressure and expectations of fitting in long workouts!
This time around I counted even 10mins of stretching or getting outside in the fresh air as WORTH IT. Not just worth it. ESSENTIAL!
When you think about it, 15mins of movement in your day isn’t going to disrupt your grades or stop you meeting that deadline. If anything, it will make you more productive.
You may not have time to drive to the gym, do a workout, shower, and drive home – (there goes 2hours).I understand not wanting to do that.
But taking 15mins first thing in the morning, before dinner, or at your lunch break, does NOT take up much time. There’s no excuse not to. I can honestly say this change has made a HUGE difference to how I’ve coped with exams this time round.
This time round, If I wasn’t hungry, or thirsty, I wouldn’t snack. I focused more on getting my MAIN MEALS right so I didn’t NEED to snack. .
You’ll find you are much more productive when you don’t feel the NEED to always have food next to you, and being drawn to the pantry every 30mins.
Sure, if you are genuinely hungry, go grab something. But If you feel like you’re needing to snack ALL the time to get through your workload, perhaps first look at your breakfast, lunches and dinners.
Are they complete, and satisfying? Are you getting healthy fats in each meal? If not, focus on them first.
A lot has changed for me in the last 2-3 years since finishing my Bachelor of Science. My food principles, my views on exercise, and my level of appreciation for how important it is to have balance in your life.
So please, take from this what most applies to you. Use some of these tips next time you catch yourself out putting your health last.
And remember, It happens to the best of us!
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