Every actuarial student feels the pressure when there is less than a month left until exam day. We sometimes feel that it is the time to give it all, which makes us neglect our physical and mental health, thinking “I will catch up on it after the exam.” However, we should not consider studying and healthy living as two sides of a coin. In fact, being actively healthy not only improves the quality of your life, it can also help you with studying.
Here are some ideas to help you stay healthy, both physically and mentally, while rushing through the last few weeks of the study process.
Before going nuts, eat nuts!
When trying to balance with work, study, one’s personal life, and everything in between, it may be hard to find some time to prepare your meals. However, meals eaten outside are usually not as healthy as the ones you could have at home. Not only will they be more nutritious, it is also more economical to make your own food. Here are some ideas to have healthy food at home without having to spend too many hours in the kitchen.
For instance, it can be useful to determine the menu for the week in advance. That way, you do not need to ask yourself every day what you will be eating; it becomes one less thing to worry about.
You can also have a “food prep” day, for example on Sundays, when you can prepare all the vegetables you want to eat during the week. On your food prep day, you can wash your vegetables, cut them and store them in the fridge. During the week, you will just need to combine them with a source of protein (meat, legumes/beans, fish, eggs, tofu) to have a complete meal! Nutritionists recommend having at least a third of your meal as vegetables.
Another idea is to take the time to cook bigger portions of meals so you can freeze them beforehand. This way the food lasts longer and you just need to unfreeze them to have a ready to eat meal!
Did you know that when we stress our body generates a hormone called cortisol that not only makes us lose muscle mass but also gain fat? This makes us want to consume more greasy food, sugar and carbs.
There are some foods that help us fight stress: bananas, nuts, asparagus, pineapples, lentils, broccoli and dairy products. Consider including them in your meals or take them as snacks. Smoothies are also great ideas.
These ideas can make “healthy eating” the easiest and fastest option during these busy days!
Take real breaks
One’s attention span drops after intense studying for a long periods of time, so it is important to take breaks during studying. When you are studying, make sure you are just doing that: STUDYING! That means putting anything that could distract you away from your study space. Set realistic expectations to what you want to accomplish that day or during that period.
When it is time to take a break, instead of being on social media or watching TV, do something that will help you come back to studying with more energy. Not looking at screens such as a computer or phone during your break will help relax your eyes. Instead, you can take a 15-minute walk or listen to some music. You can also take a power nap (no more than 20 minutes) if you think it won't hurt your sleep at night. Working out is also a great idea, but we will come back to it later.
If you are used to studying with a group, breaks are easy to set up! Just agree with the group on a time to take a break. You can set a goal before starting to study so that you will feel motivated to accomplish it before break time.
Give yourself some allowances
If you made some commitments to attend any social events, make sure you don’t feel guilty about them: you don't want to be not studying, but at the same time thinking about studying and resenting being at the event. Thus, when you take breaks don't think about the exam or studying, or anything not related to the event you are attending, so you can enjoy yourself fully. Easier said than done, right? It can be achieved if you make it a goal to enjoy yourself when you are on a break!
Listen to your body. If you are not feeling well, it might be a good idea to take some time off studying. For example, it can be beneficial in the end to “sacrifice” an evening of studying if it will help you feel better the day after. You definitely want to know when to keep going and when to stop.
This seems like obvious advice for studying, but it is a universal idea which should apply to whatever you do. Consider splitting your “to-do’s” between items that you must get done before the exam and those that can wait until after. Anything that can be postponed to being done after the exam, forget about it! You can come back to it after the exam and complete it. Anything that must get done before, do it right away. For example, if you have to do your income tax, do it as soon as possible. Clearing your unresolved issues list will help you have a clear mind, which will allow you to focus better on the exam.
Sports increase the level of serotonin in your brain, which stimulates happiness and reduces stress. It also stimulates the hormone epinephrine, which improves your ability to concentrate.
If this wasn't enough, sports will also give you energy and motivation to continue studying!
You can also consider stress-relieving activities such as yoga or breathing exercises.
What if you just cannot find the time to squeeze in a few workouts per week? There are many workouts available online that are less than 10 minutes long. 10 minutes seems like a small sacrifice given the potential benefits!
You may start to feel that 24 hours in a day is not enough. You cannot reduce your output at work. Therefore it may be an easy choice to forego a few hours of sleep to get more studying done. Sometimes we think that if we cut one hour of sleep, we gain a productive hour of studying. WRONG! We should remember that it is during our sleep that we consolidate most of our memory. Also, we regain our energy we lost during the day. Thus, make sure that you get at least seven (ideally eight) hours of sleep.
The day before the exam
After all the hours of studying you put towards this exam, what use is it if you cannot perform on that day? You want to make sure you get to the exam after having had a good night of sleep, with tons of energy and with as little stress as possible.
Falling asleep the day before may be hard. Some people suggest planning the entire month of studying such that you can take that afternoon off and manage stress: see some friends, eat out, and relax. Other people suggest waking up really early the day prior to the exam or playing some sports/working out during that day.
This will help you ensure you are tired when night comes and hopefully will help you get a good night’s sleep!
What do you do that helps you stay healthy and motivated during that last phase of studying?
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