Mental health as important as studies for students during exam time; here are some tips

Health is both a physical and mental state. Wellness, or good health, requires ongoing effort to make positive choices, and to keep your life in balance.

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Staying healthy during exams doesn't just mean stronger academic performance. It can also help you avoid logistical problems caused by illness.

By Dr. Anuneet Sabharwal

Getting sick or overly stressed during exams can undermine your efforts on important tests. The same good habits that lessen your chances of succumbing to illness can also keep your stress levels under control. Health is both a physical and mental state. Wellness, or good health, requires ongoing effort to make positive choices, and to keep your life in balance. When you are healthy, you are better equipped to deal with the physical and mental challenges of everyday life.

A state of good health allows you to relax and focus. You can absorb and recall information better than when you’re ill, since you’re not dealing with distractions such as fever, aches, or nausea.

The Problem of Makeup Exams
Staying healthy during exams doesn’t just mean stronger academic performance. It can also help you avoid logistical problems caused by illness. Getting a bad cold during exam week might mean having to reschedule several of your midterms or finals. If you get sick with the flu, you may need the entire week to recover.

Let’s say you would normally have a week to take five exams, with one exam scheduled each day. After becoming too ill to take any of your scheduled exams, you find out that there are only two days allocated for makeup exams.

Instead of taking one exam each day as you had expected to do, you might end up taking two exams one day, and three the next. The makeup schedule would leave you with less time to study and rest between exams.

Depending on the school and teacher policies, you may be asked to produce medical documentation to excuse your absence and prove that you have a legitimate reason for requesting a makeup exam. Instead of just staying in bed resting, you’ll need to go see a doctor while you’re feeling your worst.

Makeup exams also present difficulties for teachers, who often hear student excuses  for missing exams. They must determine which of these excuses are legitimate, without implying a lack of trust in their students. However, since the situation could be exploited, teachers sometimes need to create a separate set of substitute tests to thwart student cheating. To avoid these issues, some teachers simply refuse to give makeup exams.

Even if your teachers agree to let you delay your tests, scheduling complications could derail your timeline. It’s best to maintain healthy habits so you can stick to the original exam schedule.

Healthy Habits for Exam Success

Whether you’re worried about the nasty bug that’s been going around lately, or feeling a tension headache setting in, these four healthy habits will help keep you in good shape for exams:

Adequate Sleep
Getting enough high-quality sleep is critical during exam time. Sleep actually enhances your brain’s wiring, effectively enabling you to both think faster, and remember information better.

Proper Nutrition
Food fuels both your body and mind. The quality of the food you eat largely determines your overall health and mental acuity. We would all benefit from becoming more aware of our nutritional choices. Eating whole foods, and drinking plenty of water, will help you feel physically well and perform better academically.

Stress Management
Unmanaged stress  at exam time can cause sleep disruption, headaches, poor concentration, and overconsumption of junk food—all of which can contribute to impaired test performance. This is especially true if you tend to suffer from  test anxiety .

Moreover, stress can  inhibit your immune system . Depressed immune function often leads to physical illness. Some stress is inevitable. But finding  appropriate ways to deal with stress  is key to staying healthy during exams. Positive approaches to stress management include journaling, meditation, quiet times with friends, and physical exercise.

Regular Physical Activity
Exercise is a healthy habit that can mitigate the damaging effects of stress. But stress management is not its only benefit. Moderate aerobic exercise improves blood flow and cardiovascular health, benefiting your brain. Physical exercise  promotes mental concentration and the ability to recall information, both of which are critical to getting good test grades.

How do teachers help?
Teachers can do many things to de-stress students who are taking their final exams.
• Ask them if they are ok or if they are worried about any aspects of the exam. Reassure them to do the best they can at this given time
• Encourage them to talk. Being tearful or despondent could be signs of not coping. Look for any unusual behaviour
• Keeping communication open, being approachable and sympathetic is important
• If they are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work, encourage them to prioritise and take regular breaks
• Suggest after school clubs and lunchtime clubs. Those are great places for them to unwind and relax between studying
• Make sure that they have all the resources and help
• The most important advice is to make sure that all relevant school parties are aware of the situation at the earliest opportunity. A collective and supportive response is vital and could save a life

Dr. Anuneet Sabharwal, MBBS, MD (Psychiatry)
Dr. Anuneet Sabharwal, MBBS, MD (Psychiatry)

(The author is MBBS, MD in Psychiatry. He worked as a senior resident at GB Pant Hospital, New Delhi. Views expressed are his own)

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First published on: 19-03-2019 at 13:04 IST