News flash, Oberlin! Finals are coming faster than you can say “December breakdown.” No matter how prepared you think you are for the impending storm of academia, this time of year is still extremely stressful, so now is a great time to engage in some necessary self-care to help ease your perilous journey toward winter break. Here are some chill practices, both basic and more obscure, for increasing focus, calming the mind and maybe even improving academic performance.
The most tried-and-true way to do your best work is to get enough sleep. Though this seems obvious, it still bears mentioning because sleep deprivation has a Pandora’s box of negative side effects. Loss of sleep impairs attention, concentration, alertness, reasoning and problem solving, plus you miss out on the memory consolidation that occurs while you doze. If you need more convincing than that to get your eight hours, I’m sure any parent would be happy to scold you about your abhorrent sleeping habits.
A second basic consideration is eating healthy. Finals season goes hand in hand with eating lots of junk food for quick energy boosts, but it’s extremely beneficial to stay on the wagon with food intake as much as possible. Start by eating a real breakfast that contains protein and fiber, and continue to eat every few hours to keep a steady flame of energy burning inside of you. Avoid sugar, which will send you on a short peak followed by a steep crash, as well as other processed foods high in sodium — they increase cortisol levels, putting further stress on your body. When you can, opt for foods full of healthy fats like avocados, walnuts and coconut oil, along with leafy greens and berries and even some dark chocolate if you’re feeling wild.
Despite the inevitable fatigue of the season, getting a little exercise can actually help your mood and energy levels if you are in a pit of academic misery. Hitting the gym helps clear your mind while simultaneously acting as a stellar form of procrastination, giving you a great excuse to take a break from the glow of your computer screen. If the treadmill doesn’t speak to you, there are lots of additional options: Robert Carr Pool in Philips gym is a great choice for a little workout, and a trip to Solaluna Yoga is a special treat that feels almost like a vacation. If those are too intense, the Naked Run around Mudd might be enough to keep the blood pumping and your work output strong.
A classic last-ditch attempt to improve cognitive performance is gum chewing. There has been a great deal of conflicting research on the usefulness of gum while studying and test taking. It has been shown that gum improves performance with cognitive tasks for the first 20 minutes of chewing. However, the rhythmic action of chomping hinders the memorization of serialized lists, so the clutch time to reach for gum is while taking a test or working on a paper, not while cramming beforehand.
Another trick that might improve your experience is incorporating some ginseng into your routine. Ginseng comes in lots of varieties and forms, but for these purposes, Panax ginseng or Asian ginseng will serve you best. It’s been used medically for over 5,000 years to treat everything from immune function to high cholesterol. It has also been widely used to decrease stress and improve mental clarity, so drinking some ginseng tea is an easy and cheap way to support your cognitive performance. Ginseng is also widely known for increasing sexual arousal and treating erectile dysfunction, which might assist with yet another extremely beneficial way to de-stress for finals week. Keeping it together at the end of the semester can feel like a chore, but the end is near and you can totally handle it!