Exam stress? Read on

Avoiding Brain Drain

Exam season is well and truly upon us! If you or your nearest & dearest are in the grip of exam anxiety then here are a few tips to help soothe the stress, boost those brain cells and maximise your memory banks.

The human brain is a wonderful piece of engineering composed of billions of brain cells, also called neurons, and like any perfectly designed machine it needs essential fuels to keep it performing at its maximum capacity. So don’t feel brain-drained; lavish some love and attention on this powerhouse of your body & experience some brain- boosting benefits.

1.       Staying hydrated. Good hydration is vital for proper brain health & function. Aiming to drink a glass of water every hour during the day and eating foods that have a high percentage of water content, such as watermelon, lettuce or cucumber could help to keep the body and the brain hydrated. Frequently we fail to notice that we feel thirsty & by the time we do, the brain’s cognitive function may have declined by 10%, affecting memory and attention and causing fatigue and dizziness.    

2.       Protein.  Choose foods packed with good quality protein,such as eggs, fish, meat, dairy, pulses, nuts & seeds. Dietary proteins are broken down during digestion to amino acids; these are the raw materials for making neurotransmitters, the brain’s special messengers.  Neurotransmitters are the way in which the brain processes information, helping to control mood and depression, support memory and learning. Two of the eight essential amino acids, called Tryptophan and Tyrosine, are vital for the production of brain neurotransmitters. 

  3.       Carbs. In combination with protein, Carbohydrates, which provide vital brain fuel in the form of glucose, may influence performance and mood when you are under stress. Try to avoid quick-release carbs found in muffins, chocolate, biscuits and even energy drinks; these are less effective at sustaining a stable blood glucose balance than the carbs found in low GI, fibre-rich foods, such as a bowl of muesli topped with fresh berries & chopped nuts or hummus with vegetable sticks or even a whole avocado!Well-balanced blood glucose levels appear to improve quality and duration of intellectual performance and reduce stress perception.

 4.       Fats.  Focus on the good essential fats, in particular the long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) & Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, kippers.  The omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in the formation of membranes in the brain and overall brain function. Plant-based sources of the omega-3 fatty acid, Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), include walnuts, linseeds (flaxseeds), sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, eggs, green leafy vegetables, legumes, sea vegetables & algae. By boosting your intake of dietary or supplemental omega-3 fatty acids you may improve your sleep pattern, giving the brain a well earned rest; a recent study showed 1 hour’s extra sleep and less sleep disturbance in children whose diets had been supplemented with 600mg of DHA over a 16 week period.

5.       Vitamins & minerals. Too numerous to mention!  But I will mention these key nutrients which can support brain health; B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K plus iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc & oft  ignored, boron. Vitamins and minerals work in concert with the macronutrients protein, carbs and fats and are equally as vital to maximising brainpower. Building your daily diet around a rainbow of fresh vegetables & fruits, whole-grains, fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds & oils can provide all the vital brain-building nutrients allowing smooth & efficient transfer of brain messages around the brain and nervous system meaning increased alertness, greater understanding & improved memory – all essential in thick of the exam season!

6.       And now for something completely different …..

Distract yourself from the stress of revision and exam pressure by doing something different; Why not listen to music, watch a feel-good film, get some exercise, meet a friend for a chat, dance, cook, sleep whatever you choose to do, remember to step away from the desk full of books and give those brain cells a welcome break!

 

(Article references available on request)

 

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