April 28, 2011

Fortifying the Mind Without Neglecting The Body and Soul

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Spring has sprung and spring break has come and gone, which means that finals are on the horizon. It’s crunch time, but staying healthy — physically, mentally and emotionally — during finals preparation is essential. It is easy to resort to bad habits such as over- or under-eating (especially junk foods) and neglecting sleep in exchange for precious last-minute cramming sessions to survive finals week. On the contrary, effective organization, advanced planning, scheduled study times, a reasonable amount of sleep and proper nutrition can all help prevent additional unwelcome stress.

Defeating Procrastination

Procrastination is success’ worst enemy. Not only does it feed on itself, but it tends to dig a deeper hole with time. Instead, whatever the task at hand — as Nike says, “Just Do It.” Make a plan, and then execute it. The simplest way to begin is to make time-sensitive to-do lists, then follow through accordingly with effective time management. If necessary, make a deal with yourself. Assign yourself a realistic amount of material to cover for each day; plan to work for 45-60 minutes at a time with 10 minute breaks and schedule specific study hours for each day. As a reward, also schedule time to pamper yourself for sticking with your plan. Always remember that the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step.

Committed Concentration

Reduce or remove external distractions. This not only includes creating a favorable study environment void of televisions, loud music, cell phones and social networking, but also understanding your own study style. Study when you are at your sharpest, which is dependent on your body’s internal clock. Do you peak mentally in the morning or in the evening? Schedule your most difficult materials when you are at your best and the easier ones when you are mentally less efficient. Determine whether you study best in a group or independently, in the library or in your dorm room. Whichever it is, ensure you are relaxed to acquire peak performance, but not so relaxed that you induce sleep.

Restful Sleep

Sleep is essential to retaining the information you gain through learning and studying. However, oversleeping can leave you feeling even more lethargic. Even when the regular schedule of classes has ended, still set a normal morning alarm to best utilize time. Avoiding “all-nighters” may not be entirely possible, but sticking to your usual sleep schedule is best for keeping your body in sync and rested. Sleep is essential downtime for both the body and brain, especially the night before an exam for peak performance the next day.

Proper Nutrition

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, but late night pizza and cookies should not be your premiere choices for nutrition. Instead, incorporate healthier options such as oatmeal, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta into meals. The United States Department of Agriculture emphasizes that a healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Eating a variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats, chicken, eggs, beans, peas and soy is also important. Omega -s found in fatty fishes have been shown to be primary building blocks of brain tissue and are thought to stimulate brain processing power. Snacking on nuts and seeds instead of sugary products is another way to unconsciously and healthily supplement your diet and fulfill small cravings. Apart from the contents of a meal, serving size and frequency are all important factors. Aiming to have fruit with breakfast, a large salad for lunch and vegetables with dinner is a good idea. Eating frequent small meals is also highly recommended. Having a big meal before a study session will send your body into a “rest” mode, inducing unwelcomed “ZZZZs” and disrupting your planned study schedule.

Develop a Positive ”Can Do” Attitude

Even though we all dread finals week, in seven days it will all be over. You are being tested on concepts you have already learned and mastered throughout the semester and effective studying only reinforces what you already know and provides time to tweak weaknesses. Irrespective of it all, just breathe and remember you are not alone! If ever stress surpasses your limit, speak to a friend or a counselor for suggestions on how best to handle the issue at hand. We are all going through finals together and, like every other challenge, this too shall pass.

Samantha Palmer is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at Weill Cornell Medical College in immunology and microbial pathogenesis. She may be reached at sgp2002@med.cornell.edu. What’s Up, Doc? appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Samantha Palmer