By Alexandra Smith
UPPER BURRELL, Pa.—As final exams and the holiday season approach, many students may feel stressed out due to a larger homework load, lack of sleep, and other personal problems related to family life and school.
According to Leslie Bonci, Pittsburgh-based registered dietician, students may neglect healthy eating habits due to their busy schedules as the semester ends and the holiday season begins.
Bonci said that students often overeat at holiday gatherings. “What tends to stimulate more eating is alcohol,” Bonci said. “If you go to a party and start drinking, you’re going to eat more. Have something before you go to a party to absorb alcohol.”
According to Bonci, it’s important for students to eat high-protein snacks while shuffling between activities like shopping, hanging out with friends, and studying for exams. “Protein is really important and it can be challenging,” Bonci said. “Have some almonds, nuts, string cheese, and grab and go packets of peanut butter on hand. Jerky and granola bars with fruit and nuts in them are also healthy and portable.”
Bonci also noted that hydration can affect academic performance. “The brain is an organ just like the rest of the body,” she said. “If someone’s isn’t hydrated, they can get headaches, fatigue, and have concentration issues.”
“People don’t think about water as much when it’s cold out,” Bonci added. “It’s still important and forced heat in classrooms can make you dried out. Coffee, hot cocoa, apple cider, and tea don’t dehydrate the body. They’re tasty fuel, and they hydrate you.”
Elaine Zarichnak, Penn State New Kensington nurse, said that it’s especially important for students to take care of themselves as the semester ends and flu season begins in December.
“The biggest thing is washing your hands,” Zarichnak said. “Before you eat, and after you go to the bathroom. Don’t share drinks with somebody else, and get a good night’s rest. Your body’s resistance is down if you don’t get a good night’s rest.”
According to Zarichnak, it’s also important for students to hydrate properly and stay home from school if they are sick. “Drink enough fluids,” Zarichnak said. “Limit alcohol because it dries you out. There are germs everywhere, and when you start to feel ill, you should stay home. Don’t go to school if you’re sick.”
Julie McCune, Penn State New Kensington counselor, said that proper studying techniques and taking short breaks while studying can help students prepare for final exams. “I think making sure that you’re not spinning your wheels while studying is important, and that you don’t over study,” McCune said. “At some point, the brain starts to turn off, so you want to make sure you’re studying effectively.”
“Managing your time and leaving enough time for breaks is important,” McCune added. “Don’t sit down and do a five hour study marathon. The brain doesn’t work very well that way. It helps to build in little breaks for distraction because mental breaks help you refocus and learn a little better when you come back to studying.”
McCune said that students often feel depressed or struggle with family issues during the holiday season. “There’s this kind of exaggerated sense of holiday on television,” McCune said. “Life isn’t a Hallmark special, and when you keep that in mind, you won’t have unrealistic expectations about the holidays.”
“Sometimes families fight,” McCune added. “If you don’t want to have a really big blow out, then don’t. If a fight starts to happen, step outside. Just walk away or leave.”
According to McCune, it’s important for students to maintain perspective as they prepare for final exams. “Just remember that all of this will pass,” McCune said. “A final is just one test in the scope of your life and all the tests. Everything is not all or nothing, and it’s not the end of the world.”
“You don’t have to be perfect, and the final doesn’t have to be perfect,” McCune added. “You might get a grade you don’t like, but you can still be a successful, thriving individual for the rest of your life.”