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Final Exam Stress Makes you Sick: 7 Tips on How to Stay Healthy

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21 Nov 2018
9 min read

Many students get sick during exams, but why? There are a few theories out there explaining this, but more importantly, we have some effective ways to stay healthy and help you fight off any sickness during this stressful time!

Picture this: after weeks of intense studying, cramming as much information you can into your brain, and wishing you kept up with your readings throughout the semester, you approach your first exam and feel a sense of relief after finishing it. But that's just the start. You're back to the library right away without even having the chance to pat yourself on the back to study for your next exam.

After rinsing and repeating, you finally finish your last exam of the semester and you're FINALLY ready to celebrate and treat yourself.

BUT, you suddenly feel some soreness, a cough or two, and now you're incredibly tired. Then it hits you and you realize that you're very sick.

If this has ever happened to you, you're not alone. Thousands of students get sick right after exam season and are left wondering why? Although there isn't a definitive explanation for this, there has been a few theories that could explain why exactly you get sick right after exams.

*OR if you just want to know how to stay healthy during exams, click the link below!*

7 Tips on How to Stay Healthy During Exams

3 Theories: Why you Get Sick after Exams

Theory #1: Stress: The Let-Down Effect

picture of young caucasian male putting his hand on his palm due to stress

According to Marc Shoen, a psychologist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCLA, the Let-Down Effect is when an illness or flare-ups of a chronic condition occurs after a stressful period ends.

Shoen says that after stress dies down, there's "a down-regulation of the immune system, a suppression of the immune response, [as a reaction] to the easing of stress." Meaning that when the immune response lowers its guard, the chance of getting sick increases.

One study actually found that panic attacks occur more frequently on the weekends than the weekdays; suggesting that people can get stressed and overwhelmed at work/school during the weekdays and then feels the after-effects of this stress right after the stressful period (the week) ends.

Theory #2: Lack of Sleep

Whether you prepared well in advance for your exam or not, it is likely that the amount of sleep you get before your exams will decrease; especially so if you left everything to the last minute (which is very common).

A study was done where 153 people volunteered to receive a dose of rhinovirus (one of the main causes of the common cold). The result was that people with less than 7 hours of sleep were 3x more likely to get a cold than people with more than 8 hours of sleep.

If you're only sleeping a few hours a night the days leading up to your exams, this could very well explain why you get sick so much easier.

Theory #3: Travel

Since many students live away from home and therefore visits home during the holidays (ie. after exams), they're put in situations where they're surrounded by other students who are also at a higher risk of getting sick.

When congregating many individuals who are at high risk of getting sick due to lack of sleep and stress, it makes sense that traveling and coming into contact with others is a likely reason why you can get sick easily after exams.

One thing all of these theories have in common is a drastic change in circumstances; a drastic change in stress levels, amount of sleep, and contact with other people. According to ScienceLine, this drastic change is the main cause of sickness as the immune system "relies on the coordination of many different types of cells...and physiological conditions that alter the balance between the immune branches or the function of individual immune cells may have detrimental health effects".

But, don't worry too much! There are a lot of ways to stay healthy during exam season so that you don't get sick right after. We got you covered.

7 Tips: How to Stay Healthy During Exam Season

#1: Avoid Excess Caffeine

man dumping out caffeine pills

It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that pounding back numerous cups of coffee will help you but in the long run, you increase the chances of you crashing, making you more tired, and increasing your chances of getting sick! You can see how this is counter-intuitive.

#2: Take Breaks

One of the most inefficient things you can do while studying is forcing yourself to study 10 hours straight with no breaks. Not only does your health suffer, but it is also much harder to soak in the information you're reading (which is the most important. Don't forget!).

#3: Catch Plenty of Z's

Although it's easier said than done, make sure you're giving yourself a good amount of sleep every night, even if it's the night before your exam. The less sleep you get, the more likely it is that you'll get sick during and even after your exams!

#4 Eat your Greens!

While junk food can be incredibly tempting as a quick snack during exams, it really doesn't help to keep you focused and alert while studying. It's tough (we know), but even substituting one junk snack for fruits and vegetables can really help with your concentration and energy.

A study by Marcos et al found that immune suppression (lowered defense of the immune system) did not occur in students that ate food containing lactobacillus bacteria (found in yogurt). So be sure to stock up on yogurt for this upcoming exam season!

#5 Stay Hydrated

It's shocking how many health benefits water can bring you. This is definitely a necessity during exam season, especially if you're looking to alternatives like caffeine or pop. Staying hydrated can prevent headaches, reduce soreness, and a multitude of other things so make sure you have a water bottle beside you at all times!

#6 Exercise!

It's easy to make the excuse that you have no time to exercise during this hectic time but it's one of the most impactful things you can do for your health. If you don't believe us, some scientists actually suggest that if you're going to do only one thing to reduce your chances of getting dementia, it's exercise.

Exercising whether it's going to the gym or even taking a brisk walk will help your brain's blood flow and re-energize you if you're struggling to concentrate.

#7 Pace Yourself

animation of cat and girl taking a deep breath

If you control the amount of stress that you experience by taking breaks, exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping, it will be much harder for you to get sick due to the regularity and healthiness of your habits. Ensuring that your body is not revved up 24/7 by taking even the smallest breaks or getting that extra 30 minutes of sleep can go a very long way.

Without a doubt, exam season is an incredibly stressful time for most students. But sometimes you just need to take a step back and realize that it's not the end of the world and you can make it through this!

One thing to add is that this isn't limited to just students. These tips can apply to many people that are involved in exam season, ESPECIALLY teachers and professors. From creating the exam material to making sure all processes are in place to even marking the exams, teachers are at risk of getting sick from all of the stress exam season can bring. So to all the teachers out there, keep these tips in mind!

To minimize the stress and negative health impacts that exams can bring to you, make sure you keep these tips in mind and you'll minimize the chances of you getting sick and missing out on treating yourself!

Since you know now how to stay healthy during exams, all you need to know is how to ACE your exams. You're in luck because here are 25 Effective Exam Writing Techniques to help you get through exam season!

Author – Daniel Je: daniel @ oneclass . com


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