There is such a thing as “ego-pillars”. They refer to the beliefs our self-image is constructed on. “I am intelligent“, “I am reasonably good-looking“, “I am loved “, etc. are all examples of self-beliefs that keep us mentally afloat through life’s challenges. In fact, health coaches believe it is imperative to have several different ego-pillars for a confident personality which can resist depression when one or more such self-beliefs get shattered through encounters in life. Getting rejected in one interview or scoring poorly on one examination should not lead to the shattering of one’s whole self-image to the point of feeling unworthy.
This is why psychologists suggest to have a multitude of different interests and hobbies (some of which that don’t require external validation) to keep a healthy self-image not prone to depression. In face of feeling like a failure, these multiple hobbies act as a cushion so one can give oneself a pep talk like, “Okay, I failed this paper, but there are so many other things I am good at like singing and basketball and I know that I am a loved and valued as a friend and daughter. I can sit for the exam again next semester“. Such rationalisation is a psychological coping strategy. In order to remain a happy and balanced person through student life’s pressures, it is very important to invest one’s energy in multiple activities and not focus all of one’s efforts on a single goal.
Exam time is mentally taxing for all students regardless of how capable they are in the particular subjects. To add to that, the mental idea of being “evaluated” puts an implicit pressure most students are not able to shake off. The competitive aspect of exams makes it easy to forget one’s own beliefs of one’s competence and see the exam scorecard as the only representative of one’s competence. It is easy to feel depressed during exams. During examinations students are always feeling like they are not using their day productively enough. No matter how many hours of study one clocks in, it is easy to feel some classmate or the other studied more or covered more chapters during the same time. This why students consider exercising, cooking or spending time with friends a ‘waste of time’ during exam season. Not having an exercise regimen and not having home-cooked meals leads to students gaining a significant amount of weight during exams.
Gaining weight during exams is the worst thing you can do for your self-esteem in exam season. On top of exam stress, feeling the pressure of having to lose all the weight you put on after exams can only contribute to increased anxiety and mood swings. Physical and mental fitness are very closely tied together. And during exam season it is the quality of your study that matters more than quantity in terms of hours. Getting in an hour of sweat daily during exam season increases productivity and mental receptivity. The pheromones released during exercise and the social aspect of seeing other people can lead to you keeping the bigger picture of life in mind and studying happily in a detached manner. Moreover, keeping brain foods like broccoli, beetroot, almonds and walnuts in one’s daily diet boosts memory and retention. Lack of protein and nutrients in diet and surviving on refined sugar and potatoes will give you energy for one hour and then make you crash.
Exam times also lead to isolation. Not going to college daily and remaining cooped up in one’s room can lead you to lose touch with your friends and spend hours wasting time on social media stalking profiles. A healthy social life should be maintained even during exam season. Deleting all social media accounts is not the answer. Try to go and meet friends in person during your study breaks and plan and use your phone after a period of three to four hours of putting in work. There are also productivity apps these days like ‘Forest App’ which lock apps on your phone for a number of hours you set.
The point of this article is for students to keep the bigger picture of life and of themselves in mind even through exam season. Exercising daily, maintaining a balanced diet and keeping in touch with friends and family are a lifestyle. These activities are a part of being a mentally healthy and confident person which cannot be relinquished during exams. While definitely I would not suggest trying to lose weight with a caloric deficit or drastic over-exercise during exams, an optimum amount of moderate exercise combined with a protein-rich diet will make it easier to love yourself and feel proud of yourself regardless of exam results. Exams are temporary, physical and mental stimulation is a lifestyle. In the long run daily, we should aim for a balanced day with mental work as well as physical exercise to remain happy, feel productive and give meaning to our lives regardless of periods of stress.
Picture Courtesy- U Mirror