Eat Well to Feel Well: Tips to Ease Exams Stress
As the exam period has started for almost everybody, it is now more important than ever to find personal strategies to deal with the intensive work that is ahead which, as we know, can generate a lot of stress. Here are a few simple but effective tips concerning an aspect of our lives that we all tend to overlook, if not neglect, in times like this: food.
First, a few symptoms and causes
The most common stress symptoms range from headaches to insomnia, as well as mood swings or anxiety. The worst forms of stress can generate high blood pressure, which in turn can increase the risk of suffering from dangerous cardiovascular diseases.
From a medical point of view, stress is the organism's response to a stressor. These stressors are all those external conditions that might have an impact on our psychological and/or physical wellbeing, such as sustained periods of intensive and draining work, or psychologically or physically traumatic events. When subject to these stimuli, our organism copes by entering a sort of sustained period of alert, producing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These are effective in a short period, but they do cause high blood pressure and divert important resources from our immune system.
This perspective on stress is very important because, as it were, we can regain control over some of these external conditions. Sleep is certainly one, the way we eat is another, and often closely related to the former.
Now, some possible remedies
Besides a balanced diet, there are several types of food we can count on in stressful times. Their effectiveness consists of their effect on some key aspects of our organism chemical balance.
Whereas things like cakes, and sweets in general, might give a short term relief, their effect on our organism is very much counterproductive. Food with a high glycemic index generates insulin, and in turn cortisol, one of the main hormones that cause feelings of stress.
Vegetables, fruit and nuts, cereals, chocolate (at least 80% cocoa) all engender a positive reaction in our organism.
All these help our body to generate endorphins, which help with our sleep and steady our mood. Whole grain cereals contain high levels of vitamin B, important to sustain our nervous system.
Nuts contain unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat which are good for our organism and help lowering cholesterol. As for stress relief, almonds, for example, contain magnesium, calcium and selenium, all stress regulators capable of easing anxiety.
Drinks can be extremely impactful on our wellbeing as well. Energy drinks, and caffeinated drinks in general, might help us to keep alert but ultimately have the effect of perpetuating and exacerbating our body’s state of tension, they can lead to sleep deprivation and create vicious cycles which can be hard to break.
On the contrary, green tea, for instance, besides being caffeine-free, also contains helpful antioxidants. Rooibos Tea also has similar properties, as well as helping to reduce blood pressure.
Finally, the time of day in which we have our meals can have an impact on our wellbeing, it can help with digestion and regulating sleep cycles. The suggestion, in this case, is simple, but not always easy to follow when we are absorbed in meeting deadlines and revision. It is important to indulge in rich early meals like breakfast, rather than get to the end of our day feeling starved. This may lead to over-eating and therefore could potentially compromising the quality of our sleep.
Please note these are my views and do not reflect those of the Residence Life Team. If you would like to access self-help resources or further support on wellbeing or stress, please visit the Intranet here Self-help resources - Student intranet - Cardiff University.
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