by Genevieve Rochon – Terry Peer Learning Assistant
In the weeks leading up to and during midterms, my use of the word ‘stressed’ in everyday conversations grows by about 67%. Chats with friends and classmates show me that I’m not alone in this. High stress levels can eventually lead to mental health issues such as depression, but in the short term stress can cause procrastination, irritation, lack of focus, sadness, and exhaustion. How can you ditch midterm stress and put your energy into doing well in all aspects of your life? Here are some of my favourite tips during midterms:
- Lifestyle Adjustments: Having to deal with midterms and assignments on top of class and your usual activities may lead you to put ultra-important parts of your lifestyle, like sleep and exercise, at lowest priority. To maximize sleep, be sure to schedule it in as a mandatory, non-flexible part of your week. Force yourself to put aside whatever you are doing and get into bed by a certain hour every night whenever possible. I have found that if I look at a bright screen like my phone or a computer screen right before going to bed, I have a lot of trouble falling asleep. Instead, try to spend a few minutes before going to bed doing an activity that will clear your mind for a restful sleep: read a non-academic book or magazine, do some simple stretches, drink some warm milk, or listen to some relaxing music. If you are stressing about what needs to be done the next day, jot down a quick to-do list so that your worries are on paper instead of cluttering up your mind.
For many, lack of time is the perfect excuse to avoid the gym, but there is nothing like some exercise to ease stress. Even a twenty minute walk through the fall leaves or a few yoga poses during your study break can be a great way to get some perspective on your school work.
- Laugh at Least Once a Day: Laughter has a huge number of benefits for stress relief. In the short term, laughter stimulates organs such as the heart, lungs and muscles, increasing intake of oxygen-rich air and raising levels of endorphins that are released by your brain. It can stimulate circulation and help with muscle relaxation, thus reducing some physical stress symptoms. See more benefits of laughter at www.mayoclinic.com. On top of this, laughing is fun and a great way to connect with friends during the busy midterm season. My favourite sources for laughter include blogs and YouTube videos. Just make sure you don’t get carried away and end up seeking sources of laughter for hours – cut yourself off when break time is finished.
- Mini Body Stress Reduction Techniques to Try: Breathe deep to reduce muscle tension. Tense and relax your muscles, one group at a time, working from your toes up to your face. Stretch or do some yoga poses (child’s pose can be great for this!). In order to relax while allowing ideas to circulate in the back of your mind, schedule in some guilt-free ‘playtime’ for doing something fun. Use eye movements to reduce stress: look right for a few seconds, then left for a few seconds. Repeat.
- Eat the Right Foods: To increase focus and energy, stay away from energy drinks and coffee. Yes, you have probably heard this a million times. But, here are some foods you can eat instead to keep energy up. Salmon, avocados, nuts, and olive oil are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can boost brain function. Iron deficiency can cause a decrease in cognitive function and lower energy, so ensure that you are getting enough with dark green, leafy vegetables or lean beef or legumes or fortified cereals.To avoid sugar rushes and drops, stick to whole grain breads and cereals, which are high in antioxidants, protein, and fibre. Finally, stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water—this will help you feel more awake and less hungry.
Remember that although midterms may be taking up your whole life at this time, there are ways that you can reduce their effect on your wellbeing. Follow these tips and take care of your mental and physical state (see more great strategies for stress reduction at http://www.queensu.ca/learningstrategies/undergrad/stress.html). Good luck, and don’t forget to shower!