WINTER IS COMING - 5 Tips to Stay Healthy and Happy in Midterm Season

Monday, September 22, 2014


Written by Pegleess Barrios

Deadlines and viruses seem to come in pairs – the more deadlines that pile up, the more people seem to be sick on campus. It often feels like professors have ganged up against students, opting to put as many assignments on the same day as possible. And as academic stress builds up, it’s easy to drop or forget the little things that keep us sane and healthy – which will ultimately lead to getting sick. Here are 5 simple tips for keeping yourself together this midterm season academically, emotionally, and physically.

  1. Get Organized

This one’s a no-brainer. Plan ahead, and you won’t be swamped, stressed, and too busy to take care of yourself later! However, we all know this is easier said than done. In order to make your plans reality, use your agenda or calendar, and set realistic goals.

Use your agenda - That free thing you grabbed from the CSA on O-Week is actually useful for something! Write in all your deadlines for class, and carry it around with you to add in doctor’s appointments, group meetings, office hours you’re going to, etc. An alternative would be the calendar in your phone – set up all your due dates, and you can even put alarms or email reminders to yourself to follow through.

Set realistic goals and be accountable - Some things that should have deadlines don’t really have anything concrete. Examples include those 500 pages of readings that you’re going to do the night before the exam. Set yourself reading goals and imaginary due dates  – even if you only manage 50 pages a week and you still have to do 200 before the exam, you’ll be thanking yourself later! Find someone to hold you accountable, and check in so that you actually follow through. A great resource to do this is http://www.stickk.com/ , a website founded by an Economics professor at Yale, and based on two well-known principles of behavioural economics: 1. People don’t always do what they claim they want to do, and 2. Incentives get people to do things. With stickk.com, you make a goal, set the stakes (ie. donating to a charity, or doing the dishes for a month), and finally, the key part is that you select a referee – someone who will report whether or not you have accomplished the task, and if you did it well. The idea is that if you do not accomplish your goal within the given time frame, your referee will report and you will lose the stakes you bet on yourself. If you don’t want to do this through stickk.com, you can always imitate it in real life. Based on research, it is more likely to work than doing it on your own! You can also keep track of what you need to do with sticky notes, “to-do” lists, and emails to yourself; whatever it takes, don’t lose sight of your goals.

  1. Take Care of Your Body

You all know this tip and it’s a bit cliché, but it still reigns supreme in the research and is guaranteed to help you stay healthier and more relaxed.

Food - “You are what you eat” might be a bit extreme, but whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or a free-flying omnivore, eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water will not only help you stay physically healthier, it will also improve your hair and nails, vision, mental health, and help you stay motivated and energetic throughout your day. Make sure to plan meals and eat enough while you’re at school – being low in blood sugar will make you sluggish and lethargic, two qualities which will definitely not help you remember what happened in class and take good notes. The on-campus dietician, Lindzie O’Reilly, is an excellent resource if you have any questions about your diet, and it is free for all students to see her.

Exercise - Exercise will keep you happy. Go to any counselor or doctor and the number one cure they will have for your ailments, physical or mental, will be exercise. It doesn’t have to be hours on the treadmill or lifting hundreds of pounds every day – just walking to school, taking an outdoors breather when studying, going for a quick stroll in the arboretum, or trying studying standing up for a bit will help you stay sharp and add a bit more physical activity into your day. For those who can’t afford a gym, there are many alternatives to help you work on your fitness – intramural sports, fitness videos from the public library, or several Youtube fitness videos (such as the “Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred”) can be done for free, on campus or in the space of your own home, with minimal equipment.

Sleep - Sleep is incredibly important for consolidating memory and keeping your immune system running at its finest; two key factors in keeping academic stress and illnesses at bay. People who sleep well are better decision makers, have clearer memories, better skin, better vision, and generally function much better with a lot smaller coffee expenditure.

  1. Use Your Resources

Go to office hours - Office hours are the perfect time to ask questions in person to a professor or grad student, catch up on anything from that lecture you missed (but already acquired notes for!), find out more about your program, and create a relationship with your professor. This is something that many students, particularly those in the early years of their degrees, tend to overlook, but can be useful in garnering feedback, understanding your marks on assignments, improving your marks in courses, and gives you a lot more credibility if you need to request an extension at any point in time during the semester. A professor is much more likely to give an extension to someone they know works hard and is genuinely trying to succeed in the course rather than to a student they have never seen or heard of, and could, in their point of view, just be slacking. Creating positive relationships with your professors will pay itself back when you need letters of recommendation, references, or if you intend to volunteer in a laboratory or do any research.

Other important resources on campus to help you manage your well-being and academic life are SHAC, the Wellness Centre, Student Health Services, Campus Dentists, the Student Support Network, and the Centre for Students with Disabilities (which also offers counseling and advising for all students.)

  1. Take Time for Your Friends

Good friends are good for your health - The inverse is true as well, but to focus on the positive, good friends can improve our self-confidence, boost your happiness, reduce your stress, help you cope with traumas, and encourage you to make positive changes in your life. Good friendships take time to maintain, though, so make sure to put aside time for your friends. Research from Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford shows that in order to maintain friendships, contact must be made approximately every two weeks. Whether it’s a Facebook message, phone call, coffee date, road hockey game or study session, making time for friends and maintaining your friendships were demonstrated in the research to have dramatically positive effects on human health and welfare. On the flip side, be sure to let go of negative relationships and “bad friends”; it will only add to your stress and can take a huge toll on you.

  1. Take Time for Yourself

Sit back and relax – read, keep up with your hobbies, watch a good movie, do some research on something other than just for class. Do something just for yourself. Take some time to relax. Stop and smell the dying hibiscus flowers on campus, take a bubble bath as soon as the mix goes on sale at Metro (and get the student 10% off discount on Tuesday), go spend some time in the woods, or just go take a nap.

Plan ahead, take care of yourself, maintain some positive connections, stock up on Kleenex and you’ll be ready to navigate the most stressful and virus-ridden time of the year.

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