Preventing brain drain: Back-to-school fatigue

For some, going back to school is a great thing. New and old friends, a new outfit or two, learning new things and growing as a person. For others, school can be scary. Especially if you are starting a new school, are making new friends, or starting subjects where the work load is intense and you may not be sure how to juggle everything. How can you make things easier for yourself?

Easing into the school transition

Dress for comfort

Sometimes there is pressure to wear what everyone else thinks is great, but it doesn’t work for you. Be practical. If one of your classrooms is −25° in July, bring a sweater put on and stay warm so you can think. Wearing a shoulder bag rather than a backpack as an example can look good, but if you have to talk 2 miles to classes then you are going to end up with headaches, muscle pain, and end up more cranky than it is worth!  Support your body.

Eat the right kinds of foods, and frequently

Did you know that the brain’s requirement for glucose is essential to your success in learning and memory? Neurons or brain cells do not store glucose, which is the primary energy source for their functioning.  Student snacking can actually be to your benefit, especially when those foods have some good complex carbohydrates (green veggies, fibrous crackers with flax and chia) where glucose is most easily liberated. Lower glycemic index foods like beans, lentils, oatmeal, wheat and spelt actually enhance memory and focus one hour after consumption. What not to do is to turn to chocolate or sugary snacks, as they are high in the glycemic index and are consumed by neurons as quickly as they are made available. This leaves you susceptible to hypoglycemia, and causes dizziness, lightheadedness and difficulty concentrating.

Get enough sleep

Demands to finish deadlines requires many students to stay up far later than is beneficial. For most, 7-8 hours of sleep is really important to be able to function and retain information during the day, and sleep deprivation prevents you from having good focus and concentration. In addition, your requirements from food for brain glucose will increase. It is important to turn off the computer close to bedtime so your mind is calmer, and try chamomile or lemon balm tea to get that busy brain to calm itself.

Exercise and stretch frequently

Sitting in a chair in a classroom or hunched over at a computer is really hard on your body. The natural curve of your upper spine (or cervical spine) called lordosis can reverse over time when your head and neck are putting too much pressure on muscles and tendons to keep your bones from allowing your head to fall forward. In addition to getting up and walking around every hour to move your body, add the following three simple stretches:

  1. Lateral flexion of the head –Sit up in a chair, with your arms by your sides. Slowly lower your right ear to your right shoulder as far as it can go, gently holding that position for 30 seconds, and bring back to centre. Repeat on the left side.
  2. Chin to chest and head to back – In the same seated position slowly lower your chin to your chest, and hold for 20 seconds. Move your head back to centre and then slowly lower your head backwards to your back for several seconds (only as far as comfortable)
  3. Pectoralis stretch –Standing up, clasp your hands behind your back with straight arms, and slowly lift your arms away from your body, stretching your arms behind you. You will notice this stretch in the front of your chest.

Make new friends and nurture the friendships you have

Friends are an important way to get through school. It’s great to have a network of people to lean on and people to commiserate about stress, chat about assignments, joke around with to keep one another awake and alert. Perhaps you are a shy person, or feel like you might work better on your own? It’s important to realize what works for you. If you have trouble meeting people or making new friends, try talking about something you might have in common. There are lots of social events where your interests will align you with people who think like you and enjoy the same activities. Whether you have one friend or 20 friends, make an attempt to get to know people who make you feel good about yourself.

Ask for help

If you are having trouble with a subject, are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or you are feeling isolated in your friend groups, talk to someone. Whether that is a parent, a sibling, friend, or professional remember you are not alone and there are always solutions to a problem. Mulling it over in your head can be a scary place, and two heads can be better than one.

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