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A De-Brief to De-Stress

‘Tis the season to drag our caffeinated selves from bed to library to test. Repeat.

The dawn of stomach-churning, hair-yanking, sweatpants-sporting finals season has arrived. The monotony of studying, accompanied by a host of anxieties, can make finals week a dreaded, intimidating journey. Consider these tips and habits to help alleviate stress and ensure academic success. 

Hydration
Let me express(o) to my coffee-drinking enthusiasts one thing: Drink water. Dehydration leads to fatigue, which is the antithesis of efficiency. NASEM advises an average of eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. There is no denying that a cup of joe is a surefire way of giving you that mid-afternoon pick-me-up, but our brewed awakening is only temporary when the inevitable crash hits. If you are looking for longstanding effects to keep those eyelids from drooping (or if the taste of coffee gets boring) opt for tea instead. Research shows both caffeinated beverages have health benefits; however, certain caffeinated teas (such as green tea) can also give you that cognitive (and immunity) boost while herbal teas are soothing after a long day's work. Although the debate over coffee or tea remains unabated, water always wins.  

Exercise
Listen to your body. Our bodies tell us more about what we need than our own intellect. After hours of sitting—hunched in a cubicle, cross-legged on the floor, or otherwise—there is nothing your body craves more than movement. This doesn’t have to be a marathon or TRX boot camp. In fact, even small bouts of physical exercise—or rather deskercise—make a difference. It might mean a quick 15-minute break of stretching, going for a run, or doing a group fitness class with friends. Physical activity is important, not just for your body, but also your cognitive health. Exercise boosts energy and releases endorphins, giving you an emotional lift to better your mood and leave you with a positive state of mind. It's easy to waive exercise during study days, but the powerful benefits it reaps make it a worthwhile priority. 

Enjoy the Pleasure of Eating
Inhaling our food in between parts A and B of a problem set or the introduction and conclusion of an essay is not only unhealthy, but deprives us of an opportunity to de-stress. The pastime of eating should be a pleasurable experience, whether it is taking the time to relish a good meal or enjoy the conversation and company of a friend. Don’t let the distraction of work inhibit a savoring occasion.   

Brain Food is Real
Equally as important to the act of eating is what we are eating. It is easy to forego food preparation or rely on the loyal offerings of a vending machine. But fueling our bodies with foods rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, and anti-inflammatory properties improves not only our physical well-being, but our memory and concentration, too. Have a protein-filled omelet to start off your day. Munch on some almonds or enjoy their spreadable form on toast. Dig into Greek yogurt sprinkled with blueberries. Indulge in some dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth. These brain-boosting snacks will give you sustenance during those late-nights in the library. (Let's be real: Ritz Crackers aren't going to get you very far.) 

Sleep
Where dreams have no end and foam mattress toppers are a gift from God, college prompts a greater appreciation for sleep, but also an increasing willingness to sacrifice it. Getting enough shut-eye helps memory consolidation and retention, while sleep deprivation can have negative effects on cognitive processing, alertness, and emotional health. A good roommate won’t mind your snoring if it means waking up well-rested and energized.

Put Down Your Phone
With royal weddings and TV show revelations making up the bulk of much tabloid fodder, it's easy to give up our time and attention. Whether it’s a newsworthy story or the oohs and aahs of an Instagram post, social media inundates us, sucking us deeper into the vortex of a swipe, like, or double-tap. While taking breaks is certainly important, these distractions interrupt —and often decrease — our focus threshold. Time to take a hiatus from screen devices and let our minds disconnect.

Putting a small effort towards maintaining self-care has big outcomes — for studying and overall well-being. Give it the old college try.

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Ileana Lobkowicz