May 10, 2011

Stay Healthy at the Most Stressful Time of Year

In honor of National Women's Health Week, here are some tips from our Collegiate Perspective Blogger, Alison Parker (Theta Iota, James Madison), on how collegiate members can stay healthy during final exams!

Most collegiate members, including myself, have either just completed final exams or will be completing them in the coming weeks. As a student, I can attest to the fact that we are not our usual selves this time of year. We stay at the library through late hours of the night, and in order to compensate for sleep deprivation, we consume multiple cups of coffee to stay alert and awake. Unfortunately, the combination of little sleep and caffeine affects our bodies much more than we think.

At this point in the semester, the employees at the local coffee shop have become our best friends. Without our vanilla lattés, zombie-mode overpowers us, resulting in irritability and frequent zone-outs. We find it easier to feed ourselves with on-the-go snacks and over-priced but oh-so-satisfying coffee. However, we have become dependent on what is convenient, not necessarily the right, healthy choices for our bodies.

Sleep deprivation adds to the physical effects of stress like anxiety and rapid heart rate. Our brains release epinephrine and serotonin, and these chemical levels are heightened when we consume caffeine, a stimulant, in this state. The muscles and nerves in our bodies become overactive, which ultimately causes the “crash” when caffeine becomes less effective. Averaging seven to eight hours of sleep every night is fairly realistic for most college students throughout the school year. Why let this stop during finals week? Plus, the more sleep you get, the less caffeine you’ll need during study-time, thus breaking the cycle of caffeine craze and crash. Instead of sugary soda or coffee, opt for lemon-infused water or sip on hot tea. You'll stay focused and hydrated-- and feel ready to sleep after a long night of studying!

Many students do one of the following around final exams: overeat to satisfy their stress or eat nothing due to their stress. Those who overeat or consume unhealthy food can become sluggish or sick, which leads to less productivity, and thus more stress. On the other hand, those who skip meals to allow for more study time will have no nourishment and suffer from the same effects as those who overeat or consume unhealthy food. These habits cause a vicious cycle, and it all starts from making the wrong choices to compensate for a busy lifestyle. As a solution, bring snacks like almonds and veggies to chomp on in between meals at the library. Eating healthy snacks or a few smaller meals throughout the day will prevent a potential fast food binge, leaving you tired, sluggish and worst of all, still hungry.

No matter how much studying or work we have to complete, there is always time to take a break. Our muscles take the toughest toll during finals week. As we sit at the table or computer studying, hours can pass with improper posture. This can cause muscle tension and poor circulation, leading to backaches, neck aches and headaches. Be sure to take frequent breaks, whether you go to grab a drink of water, use the restroom or visit another friend in the library. Also, consider setting aside time for a daily trip to the gym, even if it's only for ten minutes. A quick run on the treadmill will work away stress and release endorphins, leaving you refreshed and awake, both physically and mentally.

For those beginning finals this week, it is understandable how busy you are, but there’s always time to take care of yourself and still study hard. Just remember: grades are extremely important, but so is your health! Take care of your mind and body, and you’ll thank yourself as you start summer off on the right foot.

Stay tuned to Alpha Phi's Fraternity/Foundation social media outlets for more posts and information on National Women's Health Week, happening through May 14.

Alison Parker is a sophomore at James Madison University (Theta Iota).

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