Fighting the winter blues during the exam period

(Graphic by Joshua Awolade)
(Graphic by Joshua Awolade)

With winter fast approaching, the familiar chorus of coughing has returned to campus.

To add to the return of bitter weather, exams are just under three weeks away and fast approaching. The culmination of the two can have dire consequences on physical and mental health leading into this stressful time. As the clock runs closer and closer to the exam period, two main stressors will be the contributing factors to increased sickness among students. One of them is the general stress of exam writing.

In a recent study reported by BBC, Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has discovered a link between stress and general health. One of his conclusions was that stress changes a person’s behaviour and shapes the way they act throughout the day.

For example, a person dealing with a high level of stress may detour from their normal daily activities. Elevated stress decreases the amount of time a person will sleep, limit their available time for exercise, and encourage destructive behaviours, such as binge eating and drinking. This leads to another main stressor in contracting sickness: sleep deprivation.

Many students are no stranger to this concept; numerous times I have witnessed scores of students cramming furiously all night on campus. This poses the question: How bad can lack of sleep really be? The answer is a simple one: it does not benefit students and only leads to a weakened immune system.

When the immune system stops working the way that it is supposed to, this ultimately results in an increased susceptibility to sickness, which can further impair regular sleep functions and continue the vicious cycle. Lack of sleep also impedes on proper mental functioning and decision making, which is a major asset in exam writing and retaining information.

The abundance of stimulants available can also pose a problem. Coffee, caffeine supplements, and energy drinks disallow the body to fall asleep so the student can study. Of course this leads to even further sleep deprivation. So what’s the solution to this problem? According to Marilyn Nieboer, the Wilfrid Laurier University health educator, the key is to maintain a balanced lifestyle through the stress.

“It’s a real balance in life,” Nieboer said. “And you have to recognize that balance and work with it.” According to Nieboer, everyday simple normalities such as drinking water and hand washing are other ways to help ward off potential sickness.

Vitamin supplements are a great way to keep nutrient intake up and make up for any deficiencies. A simple multivitamin and vitamin C can help you to stay healthy on campus as well as get your essential nutrients.

Health Services provides flu shots for students with no appointment required; the last day for faculty and staff to receive their shot on campus is November 22nd in the Student Health and Development Centre on campus. If you are hoping to avoid catching the flu during the dreaded exam crunch time, it is recommended that you get your shot done as soon as possible.

When it comes to exam time cramming, try to maintain a balanced lifestyle that mimics the same lifestyle when there is little to no stress.  “Sitting in the library for six hours won’t get it done,” Nieboer calmly warned. “You need breaks.”

Instead of catching the needess exam sickness, just keep on track with sleep and other methods for stress relief. Exercise and healthy eating can help regulate both of these stressors and fight of the flu bug. Exams will be just that much less of a hassle in a healthy state of mind.

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