How to Beat Exam Anxiety and Stress Through Nutrition

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At an Exam’s time, what you eat can make a huge difference on how children and parents deal with the stress.
The examination phase is very stressful for children and parents. However, Right nutrition can help to improve concentration on studies. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that children are eating right during exams.

Exams and stress seem to have become synonymous to each other. During these months of March, April both the child and the parent go through tremendous amount of anxiety, stress and nervous tension.

Endless comparisons, overpowering peer pressure, child’s innate desire to excel and outperform others, along with a dose of parental expectation and our system’s classic obsession towards grades and percentages, and before you realize you have a lethal cocktail. In addition, this lethal cocktail not only leads to reduced alertness, depression and mood swings, it also takes our and our child’s eating routine and choices for a toss.

As a parent, providing emotional support and guided advice are needed at this hour but also needed is a focus on your child’s eating habits, sleeping pattern and mental and physical fitness.

As parents, we are always careful about what our child eats and should eat and for that matter go to the extent of pestering him to take care of his food choices..

We want them to study, so do not want to trouble them with ‘yeh khayo aur yeh mat khayo’ during this time. We rather go out of the way and make sure that the child’s favorite food, whether it is chocolate pastry or pav bhaji is kept on the platter, just to please him or her so that they study well.
Umpteen number of coffee is served so that they can stay awake till late and obviously when the child is studying late, he gets up late and here goes the breakfast in the bin!

We parents unknowingly succumb to their demands. Skipping meals, preferring only snack items over proper lunches and dinners and ordering food from outside become routine. Watching TV or playing computer games are the chosen recreation after long study hours.

During exam time where parents need to be more careful about their food preferences, pay more attention towards the child’s nutritional needs and keep more focus on their eating timetable along with their study timetable.

Do not let the correct food choices or good nutrition slip down the priority ladder, especially during exams. Eating right and having a well-balanced diet is always important but it attains utmost importance during exams.
You would be amazed to know how what you put on your child’s plates can not only affect his alertness and memory but has also a profound effect on his moods, sleep patterns, concentration and ability to give his best during examination.

So what do you put on their plates and most importantly, how should you put them so that they are eaten without a fuss. Diet can reduce stress levels, irritability and promote calmness. Further, it has been reported that unhealthy meals can increase stress levels. Another study indicated that students under examination stress showed significant increase in food intake, high fat and sugary snacks, which can be counter-productive.

The nutrients which help in combating stress and improving your child’s memory and alertness during exams are here:

  1. Proteins – One of the most important exam nutrients is protein. Include good quality protein in the form of pulses, chicken fish, eggs, nuts and milk in your child’s diet. Adding proteins in your diet work wonders during the examinations, especially the morning when the child has his paper. You can easily add protein in form of salads (such as sprouts salad,) sandwiches (with chicken or egg white), curds, cheese, soybeans (which can be made into cutlets) by adding soy flour to wheat flour while making rotis.
  2. Carbohydrates -The brain is powered by energy, which comes from broken down food. The primary source of energy for the brain is glucose, which comes from carbohydrate rich foods like breads, rice and chapattis. The brain’s energy stores are very small, so to keep it functioning at its best, it needs constant glucose as replacement. And the best sources of the carbohydrate would be the complex carbs such as whole grains, sprouted beans and fruits. When you eat a candy or drink soft drinks, they break down too quickly into glucose. This sudden increase in blood glucose levels pushes the pancreas to secrete more insulin and this all leads to a sugar spike which is then followed with sugar drop and you start feeling depressed and lethargic. A key neurotransmitter, serotonin is also released after ingestion of starchy foods and vegetables.
  3. Good fats – Fats are major component of brain cell membrane and make up the myelin sheath around each nerve. Adequate amount of fat and the right kinds can greatly affect the brainpower during exams. The good sources of this right kind of fat would be nuts like almond and walnuts, seeds like sesame seeds (or til seeds) and pumpkin seeds, oil like olive oil and fish
  4. Vitamins and Minerals –  Among vitamins, the important ones during examination are Vitamin C (helps in immunity building) and Vitamin B (which help in the manufacture and release of neurotransmitters).Nutrients such as vitamin C, B6, zinc, magnesium, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and amino acid tyrosine are required for synthesis and proper functioning of adrenal hormones — the most important stress fighting hormone.

Critical minerals would include iron (which is required to carry oxygen to the brain cells) and zinc. Increased stress creates a greater need for certain essential nutrients such as water-soluble vitamins — Vitamin B, C — and minerals such as zinc. The levels of vitamin C can fluctuate depending on the degree of physical and emotional stress.

Following some simple tips, we can help be calm.

  1. Eat smaller, frequent meals: To ensure a steady stream of energy and have a calming effect on the brain. Choose adequate amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables like amla, citrus fruits, tomatoes, green peppers, green leafy vegetables, kiwi, broccoli, and strawberries to ensure good vitamin C status. Greens are good in particular .Vegetable and fruit smoothies are great too.
  1. Start with a heavy and healthy breakfast: Oats, Jowar, Upma, eggs, Sprouts, Boiled chana, idli, dhokla etc are great options, which provide a constant and steady supply of glucose. These are light on stomach also. A good breakfast improves the child’s concentration also.
  2. Minimise intake of white flour, white rice, sweetened beverages and sugar
    Choose whole grains such as oats, barley, brown rice, whole wheat and quionoa , pulses, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy, seafood, lean meats, green leafy vegetables and wheat germ to ensure adequate intake of vitamin B and zinc.
  3. Avoid junk food and poor quality fat (hydrogenated-trans fats)
  4. Snack smart on fresh fruits, dry fruits, honey coated nuts, seeds, roasted whole grains, soups, salads, hot chocolate, almond milk or yoghurt, to prevent swings in blood sugars and cravings.
  5. Most importantly, stay well hydrated. Green tea, jasmine tea, cammomile tea help calm the mind.
    Take tea, coffee and caffeinated beverages including colas should be consumed in moderation. In excess, they can reduced hydration and increase irritability. Try to take plain or lemon water if you have taken too much of tea or coffee.
  6. For those looking for memory enhancing techniques, nourish your brain with healthy food rather than gulping memory pills. Memory boosting nutrients include antioxidants like vitamin A, E and C found in natural foods like eggs, carrots, broccoli, fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fruits. They reduce the cell damage in the brain.
  7. Ensure that you get enough magnesium in your diet through greens, whole grains and seeds. Limit sugar intake as it increases the body’s magnesium requirement.
  8. Don’t miss out on memory enhancer foods: Omega -3 fatty acids found in fish, mustard oil, mustard seeds, methi, urad dal, rajma, soybeans, lobia, walnuts, bajra, and flaxseeds (alsi), chia seeds are good for brain, skin and heart health.
  9. Avoid eating outside food during exams: Stress can reduce your child’s immunity and make them more prone to infections. So, avoid eating outside food as much as possible.
  10. Yoghurt in your meal: Having yoghurt in your meal will keep you cool and it is a rich in calcium. Avoid having Lassi and have simple yoghurt to avoid drowsiness during exams. You can add flavors in it for a better taste.  In India, having yogurt before exams has also been considered as good luck.You can have some curd with rice as a light meal.
  11. Coconut Malai: There are very few foods as beneficial to the efficient functioning of the brain as the coconut malai, so make sure you do not throw it away. Its high copper content makes it an excellent food for boosting brainpower.
  12. Spinach for a healthy meal: Green leafy vegetables in general and spinach in particular, are a very good idea to include on a daily basis. During exam times, they are practically indispensable. They contain a host of vitamins and minerals essential for good brain health. A delicious spinach salad will not only be nutritious but also tasty and will keep you energetic.
  13. If your energy does slump, have a banana rather than a caffeine drink. This helps maintain your blood sugar and helps you maintain your energy levels.
  14. Try eating chikkis, sakarparas and other homemade snacks. They have healthy fats and are good for your brain.
  15. Strengthen memory and calm your nerves

Must Have:

(A)Folic Acid: It is essential for the body’s clearance of homocysteine, an amino acid that causes cognitive decline and preserves cellular health. Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, pulses, wheatgerm form important sources of folic acid.

(B)Vitamin B1: It keeps the nervous system healthy and is used in the biosynthesis of a number of cell constituents. It also aids memory and learning. Good sources of vitamin B1 include rice bran, wheat germ, whole wheat flour, barley, maize (dry), eggs, cow’s milk (skimmed, whole), khoa.

(C)Vitamin B12: It is needed for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. It improves concentration, memory, balance and relieves irritability. Foods of animal origin like egg, lean meat, low-fat milk etc are good sources. Plant foods containing this vitamin include spirulina (blue green algae).

(D)Lecithin: Lecithin is a primary component of all cell membranes and helps insulate nerves. It may help improve short-term memory and prevent memory loss. Good sources of lecithin are egg yolk, soybeans, cauliflower and beans.

(E)Healthy Fats: Fats found in nuts, oilseeds, cold pressed oils (olive, sesame, canola, sunflower, corn) are healthy fats. Unhealthy fats lead to formation of free radicals that can injure brain cells & hamper the functioning of neurotransmitters.

What should you eat before a test?

What to eat right before reporting to the examination hall, key point is to eat light and healthy. Hence whole grain meals are definitely in but not so much to make the student feel lethargic or sleepy. A tuna or a paneer sandwich Chapati and paneer subji or egg vegetable bhurji with seeds and buttermilk, Whole grain bread roll stuffed with chicken and vegetables are some good options for pre-exam time diet.

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