thrive, don’t just survive

nutrition and balance during finals

Winter has come. The end of the semester is near; finals are just around the corner. Though final exams might determine your grades for your classes, the most important thing this winter season is your health. Here are some tips on nutrition, healthy eating habits, and work balance, so you can not only survive but also thrive this finals season.

NUTRITION AND HEALTHY EATING HABITS

Go easy on the caffeine intake and stay hydrated.

I learned to not drink caffeinated beverages right before an exam when my anxiety intensified after I downed a latte right before my two-hour test last semester. A little bit of caffeine keeps you attentive, but too much will actually increase your anxiety and dehydrate you. Dehydration causes fatigue and headaches, so save coffee for the days you really cannot function, and remember to drink a glass or bottle of water for every cup of coffee you consume.  Prioritize drinking water to let your blood and brain juices flow: your body and mind will thank you.

Brain food is real. Eat nutritious meals and snacks.

Finals week can translate into unhealthy eating habits. We often go for that quick, tasty, on-the-go snack and mindlessly munch away because these items are most convenient. However, the quick calories of processed carbohydrates will ultimately leave you exhausted following the instant energy of a sugar high, and your concentration and memory will be impaired. To combat this, eat foods such as fresh vegetables and lean proteins, which are digested slowly. Vitamin and nutrient-rich foods will give you extra energy and help to prevent sickness.

Other than fruits and vegetables, I also recommend snacking on nuts. Grab a bag of trail mix and perhaps a bar of dark chocolate: something crunchy and something bittersweet. Furthermore, I felt great and had much more energy after I portioned my meals to be about 50 percent vegetables, 35 percent protein, and 15 percent carbohydrates. Although most exams are more than an hour in length, I try not to eat a full meal right before an exam, as energy will be devoted to digesting that delicious zucchini bread instead of helping me complete that five-step synthesis problem. My brainfood protein bar is a better alternative, keeping me going throughout an exam.

Fuel your body. Eat according to a timely schedule.

I adopted the eating style of intermittent fasting, eating only during an eight-hour time period each day. Though I began intermittent fasting to lose weight, my goal has since evolved into a lifestyle choice, for I feel my energy levels boost in the morning. This eating style serves me extremely well during finals season in particular, as otherwise I always lose track of time.

That said, everyone has a different approach to eating during finals season—a healthy relationship to food may look different for each person. For those who let time fly by and forget to eat, please remember to eat something every four hours. On the other hand, stress eating can happen, which is not the end of the world, but it can result in a stomachache. To make sure you are fueling your body with brain food and nutrients during proper intervals of the day, I suggest eating according to a timely schedule that works for you.

WORK BALANCE

Keep yourself accountable.

To make sure you’re checking tasks off your to-do lists, find a responsible study buddy. My study buddy and I share a class every semester, and we have established a routine to meet up to study together whenever we’re both free. We have discovered a range of quiet, niche study spots on campus—the Everett-Poland lounge, SciLi mezzanine, study rooms in the Rock, and more—that allow us to focus intensively. We have become great friends through study-buddy time, too. When we are both studying for the same exam, we talk out confusing concepts together and work through questions. No worries if your study partner is studying for a different exam, though! Simply having someone there with you can help keep you focused.

Take regular but reasonable breaks.

I enjoy taking quick 20-minute power naps or going to brunch somewhere on Thayer or Wickenden Street with my roommate. My study partner and I also love to escape to the finals study events, where we bask in the comfort of dogs and make fun, artsy crafts. Finals are a grueling time for college students. Though you may want to study all day, your brain can only process a limited amount of information at one time. To help prevent burnout, remember to recharge with rejuvenating breaks to improve your concentration when you return to studying.

Use all your senses when studying.

As both a visual and kinesthetic learner, I learn best by diagramming and rewriting my notes on flashcards. When the opportunity arises in study rooms, I take advantage of the whiteboards to, for example, draw out the manipulations of the cardiovascular system.

Are you a visual learner? Auditory? Kinesthetic? Not sure? You can use all of your senses in creative ways to solidify the materials you’re studying and, most importantly, make learning memorable. While studying, annotate your notes in different colors, say your notes out loud, and touch the paper when you’re writing on it. The more senses you engage, the more likely your learning will stay with you.

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In addition to considering these tips, remember that your value lies beyond the results of an exam, essay, or grade. Your physical and emotional well-being is worth far more than a number. Soon, finals will be over, and you can begin your break with your health intact—feeling great about your hard work all semester long.