Under pressure

Top tips for helping youngsters and students survive the exam season

The exam season is here and many school children and students will be feeling anxious and under pressure to do well. Here are some natural ways to help boost their wellbeing and increase productivity.

Steer clear of comfort foods

“When you are studying it’s easy to snack on comfort foods,” says Sarah Green, Registered Nutritional Therapist and Vice Chair of BANT (www.BANT.org.uk). “Sweet foods and caffeine boost your energy temporarily, but if you are also skipping meals this will lead to a rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows. This in turn affects your energy, mood and concentration and can give you headaches as well as upset your ability to sleep and keep you craving sweet pick-me-ups.” Encourage children and young adults to eat real, unprocessed foods, mostly plants. If they are craving something sweet, make sure they eat it with protein (fish, chicken, eggs and lean meats) and good fats (nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil).

Get some shut eye

“Lack of sleep not only makes us tired and adds to anxiety but it also makes us less able to recall what we need to,” says Sarah Green. “To get a good night’s sleep, students should avoid caffeine after 2pm, switch off TV, computer or phone screens and dim their lights an hour before bed.”

Up your water intake

Dehydration can leave us feeling tired and can reduce our ability to concentrate, so make sure your children are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. A good natural pick-me-up is a cup of peppermint tea which is thought to calm the nerves and wake up the mind as well as improving focus and memory. It may also help to relieve headaches.

Try some aromatherapy

Using essential oils during study periods may help students to recall the information associated with a particular scent, especially if it’s a new scent to them. Add some drops of peppermint, rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon or frankincense to a diffuser while they are studying.

Snack on some berries

“Studies have shown that blueberries may boost short-term memory,” says Sarah Green, so encourage your kids to snack on a handful of them when they feel peckish. “Vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility, so you might want to give them some blackcurrants, red peppers and citrus fruit to nibble on too.”

Boost your brain performance

“It is well known that omega-3 fats are essential for good health,” says Caroline Harmer, education director at Renew Life, the UK’s digestive care and cleansing experts (www.renewlife.co.uk). “Since 60 per cent of the brain is made up of fatty acids, and the majority of this is omega-3, it makes sense that it is very important to have a diet rich in omega-3 fats. However many children and young adults get hardly any omega-3s in their diet, and may be missing out on a simple opportunity to boost brain performance – which is particularly important during exams and periods of stress.

“Research has shown that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA has a crucial influence on neurotransmitters in the brain, helping brain cells better communicate with each other. Low levels of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids are associated with:

  • Poor reading
  • Poor memory
  • Behavioural problems

“Recent research indicates that children consuming omega-3 fatty acids consistently outscored the placebo groups on rule learning, vocabulary and intelligence testing. Current guidelines for omega-3 fatty acid intake recommend at least two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring. Not all children and young adults will readily eat oily fish because they may not like the taste or smell. So supplementing with a chewable or softgel omega-3 supplement provides a convenient and healthy alternative.”

Harness the power of homeopathy

With homeopathy, the key is to match the remedy with the person. Homeopath Dr Shania Lee suggests some homeopathic remedies to help ease the pressure of exam stress

  • Kali Phos acts as a nerve nutrient for mental and physical despair from overwork or worry. For headache and exhaustion in students worn out by fatigue.
  • Arsenicum is good for people who feel very anxious, especially after midnight. They may panic and not be able to settle because they feel restless.
  • Gelsemium may help those suffering from performance nerves who may lack confidence and give up because they feel they may fail.
  • Argentum nitricum is ideal for impulsive individuals who behave in an irritable way and then regret it.
  • Lycopodium is an excellent remedy for the type of person who is very industrious and tends to over-prepare. The symptoms are often at their worst between 4pm and 8pm or if they have missed a meal.
  • Anacardium helps with nervous exhaustion from over-study and loss of memory from fright or mortification. It is helpful for fear of examinations with a lack of confidence.

The remedy of your choice should be taken in pillule or droplet form as a one-off under the tongue and away from meals, 30-60 minutes before the exam. Obtain your remedy from health stores or online, or see a homeopath to help find the right remedy for you.

Dr Shania Lee lectures at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). CNM offers training in a range of natural health therapies, including a Homeopathy for Everyday Living short course in London. Visit www.naturopathy-uk.com

Change your mindset

“Students have extremely high expectations of themselves and when exam time is looming the pressure is really on,” says Sheila Granger, a clinical hypnotherapist and mindset specialist (www.sheilagranger.com). “As with any performance in sport, careers and for getting into university, if we focus on failure it becomes overwhelming. But, by adopting a positive mindset, success can be achieved without unnecessary stress. If you have a student who is worried, hypnotherapy is a valuable tool kit, full of strategies and coping mechanisms that can be pulled out during exam time. It can also be used in future life situations that have the potential to cause major stress. I believe these techniques should be taught in every school to arm young people for the future.”

Sheila works with young people using relaxation techniques and teaching them to think positively rather than focussing on the negative ‘what-ifs’. She says: “Students are able to install the techniques as they enter the exam hall and open the paper, feeling secure in the knowledge that they know the subject, have stored the information and can recall the answers to the best of their ability.”

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