4 Tips To Tackle Stress This Exam Season

Happy end of the term classes to all Ryerson students! Today marks the final day of classes for all students across campus, which unfortunately also marks the beginning of finals week for this semester. Stress levels are high and the campus is filled with scrambling student, all attempting to gather all necessary notes for all of their exams. Professors are finalizing exams and answering a million emails a minute, answering questions from stressed and nervous students. It is that time of the year when everyone is eager to delve into the holiday festivities, but also trying to find the best way to cope with and manage all the stress that comes with finals week and being a university student in general. It’s a happy but tough time of the year. Lucky for you, I have some tips that can maybe help you get through the stress, have you motivated for your exams, and ready for the holiday season!

TIP #1: COFFEE IN MODERATION

We all need our daily fix of Tim Hortons or Starbucks and when you’re a university student, it’s almost necessary. Coffee contains the magic C (CAFFEINE) that helps keep us alert for the day and focused for the lectures/labs/tutorials ahead. It’s especially helpful after an all-nighter spent studying, working on a project, or doing a paper (or perhaps simply getting lost in the world of Netflix…). Coffee is great – in moderation. Students tend to turn this “daily fix” during exam season to a “multiple times a day fix.” This can get dangerous and really impact your health negatively – it’ll send your heart rate through the roof, your blood pressure can be through the roof, your diet will be compromised – a lot can go wrong. Don’t over-do it with the coffee. It’s not something that you need to depend on to do well on your exams – your hard work and effort determines that for you. Limit yourself whenever possible and find other ways to stay away (i.e a cold shower in the morning, exercise, breakfast, etc).

Coffee1

TIP #2: FIND A DESIGNATED STUDY SPOT

Finding a place to study and actually be productive is difficult. This is especially difficult in the middle of the busiest city in Canada – Toronto – where Ryerson is so centrally located. Luckily, we have the Student Learning Centre (SLC) to cater to our Study Spot Needs. First, it’s important that your study spot include a desk or a table of some sort to support whatever your study materials are. Avoid anything too small – the more space, the more room to support laptop, textbooks, notebooks, phone, etc. Second, try to find a bright space, perhaps anything with a big window or light coloured walls. Studying in a bright space with lots of light does a lot for your visual senses and makes it easier for you to sit somewhere for a prolonged period of time, staring at a bunch of words and/or numbers. It definitely lessens the load. Lastly, make sure your study spot is not confining. This means to make sure that the spot you choose allows you to get up once in awhile and move around. Not only does this gives you a break from sitting in a chair in front of your computer for hours, it also prevents any sores or muscle aches from happening, which comes with sitting still for hours. If you’re looking for the perfect study spot on campus, I definitely suggest the SLC (specifically floor 5! Not too eerie and quiet, but also quiet enough to give you some peace).

Rendering

TIP #3: DON’T FORGET YOUR DIET

Stress-eating can manifest in two ways: over-eating or under-eating. Some people can binge on junk food and resort to comfort food during such a stressful time. Some people can be so pre-occupied and busy that they may forget to eat and incorporate proper nutrition into their diet. It is important to find some sort of balance in your diet during exam season. Take comfort in moderation – have a donut here and there, get a Frappucino instead of your regular cup of coffee, get some ice cream. Also, it’s not the end of the world if you miss breakfast or have a late dinner. It is expected that your diet will not be at its healthiest during exam season, but it is important to keep in mind that proper nutrition is the best way to keep the mind and body focused and ready to face the day. An improper diet can actually lead to increased levels of fatigue and stress – which is something none of us need any more of during finals weeks. What we do need is increased brain power, which is something fruits and vegetables offer ample amounts of.

brain-healthy-food

TIP #4: SLEEP – TRY IT

Sleep deprivation – we all have it. Many students have grown accustomed to functioning on a lack of sleep but this tends to get worse during exam season, when we stay up and spend the night cramming and/or getting last minute things done. As a result, the lack of sleep can lead to even more fatigue, an increased dependence on caffeine, and even worse – the chance of sleeping in and maybe even sleeping through an exam. Yikes! The best way to avoid this is simple, but hard at the same time – get as much sleep as you can. Whether that means sleeping earlier and waking up earlier or taking short naps throughout the day, do what you need to do to get some rest and relax your brain. An overworked brain will only lead to more stress and sleep revives the mind, making it easier to study and tackle exams. Sleep is important and most importantly, it’s so relaxing!

done

I wish all fellow students at Ryerson and all other schools all the best of luck during this semester’s finals week! Study hard, study well, and do your best! Surround yourself with positive vibes and do what you need to do to stay focused and motivated. We are so close to a well-deserved holiday break so we’re almost there! Hang in there. I’m rooting for you!

youll-be-fine

Quelling the rising panic

 

blurred text with the word 'stress' in focus

I have been thinking a lot lately about what to do when everything appears overwhelming and panic seems uncontrollable. I recently presented at my first conference and speaking in front of people terrifies me. Even though I knew my mind was blowing it out of proportion I still let it get out of control. So I have created a list of things I can do the next time this happens.

1. Meditation and deep breathing

I used to meditate on a regular basis and then fell out of the habit. Buddhism tells you when you meditate to notice your thoughts, label them as thinking and then to let them go. This practice can be really helpful when you are stressed. Stressful feelings are caused by stressful thoughts. If you can let thoughts go instead of getting wrapped up and following them you have a better chance of finding equanimity.

2. Take some time for self care

Self care means different things for different people. For me, getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking plenty of water and going for walks can help me deal with stress. Sometimes, it is hard to take the time to do these things but they can be vital. Self care also means knowing what to avoid. Excess alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine can aggravate stressful situations.

3. Avoid procrastination (well, as much as you can)

I am the queen of procrastination. I have mastered the art of procrasti-cleaning, procrasti-cooking and even gone as far as procrasti-ironing. Sometimes procrastination can be helpful. Everyone needs down time to give your mind a break and let ideas percolate. The key is know when you are taking a needed break and when you are avoiding necessary work.

4. Lower your expectations

I know this sounds odd but a lot of times stress is caused by the over riding need to be perfect. But you, me, everyone, we can’t be perfect. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do our best, but expecting to control everything just isn’t realistic. This is much easier than it sounds, and one that I have the most difficutly with, but trying to let go of control will lessen your stress.

5. Talk about it or write it out

Clearing out your mind of stressful thoughts can help. Write them out, talk them out, just get them out. Bottling everything up, only allows stress to build and bubble until it over flows.

The impossibility of balance

A couch leg is surrounded by dust bunnies.

Laying on my living room floor looking at the surprisingly large dust bunnies under the couch (I mean really, how do they get so big?) I am thinking about the precipitating factor that got me here: stress. Okay, so to be honest, a couple of physical jobs, a history of back issues and sitting are also what laid me low, but stress plays a larger part than most people think.

As a part time student, working full time at several contract positions, volunteering with several organizations, all while trying to have a life, stress is as second nature to me as breathing. The question, I guess, is how to manage my commitments and the stress that comes from them. Now I could go on about diet, exercise, natural remedies, mediation and yoga (and I have, at length in other posts) but the reality is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Today another back pain sufferer and robaxecet pusher jokingly said that if she could do yoga every day then she wouldn’t have any problems, but then who would do her laundry and pick up her daughter from school?

Maybe that’s what is so upsetting about it all. The myth pushed onto us that we can do it all, that we should, that it’s really our fault if we can’t find balance. I am tired of seeing blogs about the ‘5 things that balanced people do every day’, or ’10 ways to have it all’. Those tips will not help me accomplish all the tasks I have listed on sticky notes pasted all over my apartment, they won’t help me sleep at night when my mind races, they won’t stop the spasms in my back. It just places the blame for my lack of balance squarely on my shoulders, or more accurately on my lower back. It goes without saying, or it should, that what goes up must come down and juggling life is no different. Eventually, you (me, everyone) will drop the ball.

Reading this over, I feel like I should have some over riding moral or conclusion instead of just blathering on about the impossibility of balance. I have none. Maybe I am just tired. Maybe I am just overwhelmed. Maybe I am just in pain.

Shifting into another position (more dust bunnies, it’s like I never sweep!) and a little more comfortable, I can think again. Maybe that is the over riding message, a little shifting is necessary from time to time. Or maybe the melatonin and muscle relaxers are just kicking in.

An Anxious Road to Inner Peace

Anxiety has always been a part of my life and within the last two years I have taken it upon myself to find its root causes and be proactive in the attempt for inner peace. My anxiety doesn’t always have a trigger, which makes it difficult to “fix” if I can’t always pin point why I am feeling the way I am feeling. This past week was a perfect example of an anxious episode without a particular cause. It was in this moment that I couldn’t help but feel trapped in my apartment and trapped in my anxious mind. I was in a transition from one job to the next, my apartment was a mess and I just didn’t have the energy to clean and I felt a sense of loneliness seep in. It was then that I called my best friend and had a good ol’ cry fest. It was my conversation with her that started me thinking. She suggested I engage in a hobby, something that can be social or can be done alone, something to get me moving, maybe outside of my apartment. Something that would get me out of my head and focus on something positive.

Yoga. It came to me almost immediately when she suggested a hobby. Something that can be social or done alone. Something positive. Something I can enjoy and get out of my apartment. This was a great hobby to engage in, as I am an individual who wants to engage in exercise but can’t always find the time. I also wanted to help calm my mind with all the changes that I have faced within the last month. Yoga was the answer.

Mula Yoga Studio

Mula Yoga Studio

Now I was on my quest for the perfect studio. I know my personality; I needed something that was walking distance (otherwise I knew I wouldn’t go). I needed a studio that had classes after my work hours and had classes on the weekend. After a long search, I decided on Mula Yoga. Mula is a quick walk from my apartment and had classes at the times I needed it. They have a starting introductory fee of $42 for the first 21 days. This would give me enough practice to see whether this studio is for me. Their mission seemed to be just what I was looking for: “Mula Yoga is deeply rooted in the belief that strengthening the practice of Yoga will significantly improve the quality of life.”

I had my first class, Hot and Sweet, which was a Vinyasa class that also incorporated Yin and Restorative Yoga. It was the perfect class to begin with (especially considering I hadn’t practiced yoga in over 7 years). The held poses and stretches in accordance with the deep breathing assisted not only my body to relax, but my mind as well. One little blip during my class was that my mat didn’t seem to be sticky enough and so some poses were hard to hold as my hands and feet kept slipping. But with this aside, it was a great class.  My favourite part was the meditation at the end. I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep!

It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes a challenging life experience for one to find something as positive as yoga. But boy am I glad I found it! I refuse to let anxiety run my life, and I can only hope that yoga will assist my body and mind to find the peace I am looking for.

Visit: http://mulayoga.ca/about/ for more information!

Mission statement provided by: http://mulayoga.ca/about/

Safe Sun

Thank goodness summer is on its way… Even though these past few months have been a poor excuse of a winter, there’s nothing more exciting than knowing that the heat and the sun and the breeze are just around the corner. That being said, there’s a few things that we should all keep in mind throughout the coming months (and all year) with regards to sun safety. We’ve all been told that tans and sunburns are bad, and that many instances of skin cancer and a large component of aging are heavily linked to sun exposure, but somehow so many of us can’t help but bake out in the sun season after season.

 

If your childhood was anything like mine, then chances are that your mom slathered you in sunscreen and insisted on a large-brimmed hat anytime you went outside in the summer. If your teenage years were anything like mine, then chances are that you somehow ‘forgot’ to wear sunscreen on every outing and suffered a few excruciating sunburns in pursuit of the perfect tan. Yes that was me and though I enjoyed my tans while they lasted, I can already say that I’m kicking myself for all those years of foolishness. Perhaps it’s the teenage mentality to assume that ‘nothing will ever happen to me’, but with time and maturity I eventually began to reconsider my love for the sun. Slowly, the facts started to get through to me, and I remember being particularly jolted when I found out that one blistering burn before the age of 18 is enough to double your chances of one day developing skin cancer. When I finally got it into my head that all that sun could potentially be harmful one day down the line, I knew I had to do something. Though I’m not concerned with aging (yet), I am worried about all the damage that I have done to my skin. For the past two years I’ve worn sunscreen everyday, yes, even on those cloudy winter days, in hopes that I will never have to face any consequences for my many, many, many burns throughout the years. I hope that my wishful thinking and adamant use of sunblock is enough, but after doing some research into this topic, I’ve come across a few things that I wish I had known earlier and that I’d like to share…

 

Florida 2009 - Not one of my proudest moments

What is “SPF”?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number of a sunscreen’s SPF indicates the length of time that the product will protect wearers against UVB rays – the rays that are responsible for tanning and burning. For example, if you would usually burn in the sun after 20 minutes without sunscreen (the rate at which we burn varies from person to person), then when wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 30, you could spend up to 600 minutes (30 times longer) in the sun without burning.

 

The New Kid on The Block: What is “PA”?

A sunscreen’s PA level refers to the protection that it will provide against UVA rays – the rays that contribute to aging and other long-term forms of damage. A sunscreen’s PA factor is ranked on a scale of PA+, PA++ and PA+++, in which the more ‘+’s indicate a stronger protection factor. Beware that UVA-protective sunscreens are often harder to find than ones that only contain SPF, so make sure to do your research before you slather on the block.
Other Safe Sun Tips:

–       The sun is strongest between 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM, so remember to take extra precaution during that time, or avoid being in the sun at all at that time of day

–       Pay attention to the UV index – a scale that indicates the severity of the sun’s UVB rays in a particular region at a certain time. Though UVB ray intensity varies throughout the year, UVA rays are consistently strong.

–       Some medications/products can make your skin more sensitive to the sun so always be sure to read the fine print

 

I wish I had seen this three years ago: http://www.youtube.co/watch?v=_4jgUcxMezM

 

Information found at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/life-vie/sun_soleil-eng.php

5 Other Ways to Procrastinate

At this point in the semester most students have lost a bit of their academic momentum. All of the late nights are adding up and so is the stress, and sometimes there’s just no use in fighting the need to take a break from it all. Yes, we all know how to procrastinate by now (in fact I’m sure that some of us are almost professionals at it), but in my experience, carefully calculated forms of procrastination are most effective in clearing your head and replenishing your work ethic.

It’s okay to indulge your urge to procrastinate when necessary, but remember to keep it short. A bit of time off can relieve your stress but if you let it drag on for too long it will backfire. Pace yourself. Sometimes we really just need to take some time to pretend we have nothing better to do than well, nothing, and the best part is that when you’re done you should be ready to get back into the swing of things.

  1. If you’re feeling friendly…

Pull out the pen and paper and write a thank you note. In this technology-based era there’s nothing more refreshing than sending (and receiving) a good old handwritten message. Big or small, acts of kindness deserve recognition. So while you’re taking a break, why not take the opportunity to let someone know how great they are?

  1. If you’re feeling overwhelmed…

20 minutes of pure quiet can work wonders. Turn off your cell phone and dim the lights; this is not the time to plan your grocery list or surf the Internet. Whether you need a quick snooze or a crash-yoga session (there are plenty of free videos online), take some time to clear your head. There’s no need to feel guilty about it, don’t underestimate the importance of maintaining your sanity!

  1. If you’re feeling hungry…

Put down the menu and surrender your frozen dinner – this is your opportunity to shake things up. Whether you’re a novice chef or a kitchen veteran, there’s a recipe that’s suitable for your skill level, time constraint and food supply. It’s cheaper, often healthier and a lot more fun to prepare a meal from scratch than it is to order in. There’s no reason not to give it a try, the kitchen really isn’t as scary as it seems. Note: this is also a great opportunity to enjoy some quality time with your family/housemates/etc.

  1. If you’re feeling inquisitive…

Reading doesn’t just have to be for school. Reading newspapers, magazines and blogs (hint, hint) will keep your brain awake while still giving you a break from your studies. Don’t have a newspaper subscription? No problem! Virtually every newspaper is posted for free online. Check out thegridto.com or Ryerson’s own theeyeopener.com for a local, smaller-scale alternative to the big name papers.

  1. If you’re feeling charitable…

So many of us hold on to things we know we’ll never wear or use but there are people in need of what we so often take for granted, especially with the cold weather fast approaching. Clear out the clutter and give away what you don’t need. The extra pair of mittens or that old coat you have lying around can make the all difference to someone who can’t afford to buy their own this winter. There’s nothing better than helping others and what better way to motivate yourself to clean your closet?