Stress is a physical strain on the body. It puts your body in a
constant state of anxiety, which makes you nervous, edgy, and drains your
help your body by:
· Eating the right kind of food
· Allowing it to
get rid of its nervous energy
· Avoiding making yourself worse.
· Helping it to relax properly when work is over for the day
Back to the exam
are simply more calming than others. Milk, for example, contains naturally
occurring morphine-like substances which help to calm you down. Mashed potato
is a well-known "comfort food", and so are bread and baked beans.
Lettuce, and other raw vegetables, are also helpful when you're trying to use
your diet to help to keep your calm.
on the other hand, just help to wind you up. Sugar is the main culprit here. It
may give an instant "energy hit", but that's at the cost of making
you even more nervy than you were before. In fact, just about any very sweet
foods are going to increase your overall stress level if you eat them a lot.
interestingly enough, seems to be an exception. There is lots of speculation
why, and one possibility is that the calming effect of the theobromine in the
chocolate cancels out the effect of the sugar. Whatever the reason, if you
absolutely must eat sweet things during your exam time, then try to keep to
chocolate rather than directly sugary ones. Honey doesn't seem to be too bad,
either, as far as we know.
There hasn't been
anything like enough research done on the question, but there has been some
suggestion that highly synthetic chemicals such as aspartame - the artificial
sweetener which is often used to replace sugar - can contribute to stress and
depression. It's probably better to avoid those too when you're under
particularly high pressure - stick to "natural" foods as much as you
the problems of being under stress is that you don't ever really get to relax.
As a result, you feel continuously tired, and don't sleep well. There are a number
of ways that you can actively help your body to calm down, WITHOUT damaging
your exam chances. (There are also lots of ways that you can try to calm down
which will damage them quite a bit, but we'll discuss those in the next
The most important thing of all is to give your body some exercise.
After all, what's really happening when you are under stress is that your body
has been continually triggering off age-old mechanisms which we've evolved to
deal with threat.s Those mechanisms involve getting lots of energy to your
muscles, so that you can either fight off the threat, or run away. But in the
modern world, threats (such as failing exams) aren't quite that physical. And
they don't go away quickly, either.
There's not a lot
of point in trying to reason with a survival mechanism that's millions of years
old, because you probably won't win. Instead, you're best off just giving your
body what it wants - the opportunity to use up some of that nervous energy in
demanding physical exercise.
It doesn't really matter whether you cycle, skate, swim, do aerobics,
play tennis, or do anything else - as long as it's your whole body you're
exercising. Sorry, but chess just isn't good enough!
There's another advantage to exercising, too. Quite apart from calming
you down, it also increases the rate of blood flow around the body, and to the
brain as well. It appears that this can help you to think more clearly, and to
learn better. So even if you don't exercise much in the normal run of things,
when you're revising for exams or taking them, exercise is exactly what you
to the physical
lots of ways that you can make your stress much worse than it needs to be, and
at exam time, you need to make sure that you avoid them as much as possible.
We'll be looking at ways you can make your stress worse mentally in the next
section, but there are physical ways that you can do it, too. For example: not
eating, or fasting, stimulates a particularly active state in the body. It's an
old evolutionary survival mechanism, which has the purpose of encouraging you
to go out and seek food, actively. In the process, though, you become more
agitated, and less able to concentrate on other things. So it's absolutely
vital to eat regularly during exam times.
Caffeine is a very powerful drug, which acts directly on the central
nervous system and heightens emotional arousal. But you've got enough emotional
arousal just from worrying about the exams in any case, so it's an extremely
bad idea to fill your system up with a drug which will exaggerate that! Try to
drink less coffee in the period before and during exams - drink milk instead,
if you can (see above), or tea at the very least.
Some drugs help you to relax, but at a serious cost. And the worst
culprit here is alcohol. The reason why alcohol is so popular as a social drug
is because it has an amnesiac effect - it helps you to forget things. So people
use it to relax because it helps them to forget what's bothering them - at
least for the time being. The trouble is, though, is that alcohol isn't
particularly selective in what it helps you to forget. And during exam times
forgetting is exactly what you don't need to do! So if you really want
to help yourself, it's best avoided until the exams are over.
to the physical
One of the
effects of stress is that you never really relax. Even when you take time off,
you're worrying about the exam, and wondering what you should be doing. So it's
worth taking some positive steps to help your body to relax, and get a break
from the constant tension.
possibility which you might like to try out is aromatherapy. This involves
using essential oils from plants, which can help you to relax more easily.
Everyone's different, and some people find that it doesn't seem to make much
difference to them, but it may be worth a go. Try a couple of drops of lavender
oil on your pillow at night, and see if it helps you to sleep better. Or put a
few drops of lavender or geranium oil into your bath.
thing which you might find helpful is to spend as much time as possible in the
open air. Apparently fresh air has chemical compounds which are not present in
indoor, processed air - which is why washing smells different when it's hung
outside to dry. Lots of people find that just being outside helps them to relax
- whether it's walking, gardening, or even studying! Again, everyone's
different, but this does apply to most people, so you might as well try it!
Half an hour or an hour spent outside in fresh air can make quite a difference
to how well you sleep, and to how you feel generally.
you live in the heart of a city and can't manage the fresh air bit, you could
always try some of the alternatives: turkish baths, saunas and the like. They
are all about relaxing your body, which can make quite a lot of difference to
how you feel. Even if you don't do anything else, going for a sauna each week
can help you to get back to your revision feeling much more relaxed and
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