Read more from Bron at her blog, Law Fully Mindful.
As we get into the serious end of the semester, work, study and life can get overwhelming and our body can begin to suffer as a result. Colds, lethargy, and tightness everywhere informs us that our body is not super happy.
1. Essential oils
Peppermint essential oil is one of my FAVOURITE essential oils, and is one that I burn quite regularly while I study.
Peppermint oil improves mental focus and general energy. I find that burning peppermint oil (in my super cheap but effective oil burner I bought from a $2 shop) really helps wake up my mind when I’m feeling the strong pull to take an afternoon nap instead of writing my exam notes.
Peppermint oil also helps to release muscle tension. If you have one that is safe for skin, you can rub it (mixed with a few drops of a carrier oil like Bio-Oil or a massage oil) on your shoulders or lower back to relieve tension in the muscles from sitting down and studying. The warm feeling that radiates from the oil is blisssssss.
Finally (this is a big one for me) it also helps to relieve tension headaches. I wouldn’t recommend putting the oil on your temples, as you risk burning your eyes out… not ideal… but burning the oil and just having the vapour in the air tends to improve my headaches.
Just note – because peppermint oil has an energising effect, be aware of using it late at night before you want to sleep. Maybe try switching to an oil like lavender oil later on in the night, which helps promote calm and sleep.
I take a magnesium supplement daily. Magnesium is used at a greater rate by the body in times of stress. It is essential (amongst many other functions) for keeping muscles supple. I find when I am more stressed, my muscles contract and stay that way, so I am just one ball of tightness. Magnesium helps the muscles to release after contracting (so it helps with cramping and muscle repair as well). Magnesium has also been linked with relieving anxiety and insomnia as well as tension headaches. I used to suffer from tension related headaches weekly (like 3-4 times a week). Since taking magnesium, these headaches are more of a 2-3 week occurrence.
OBVIOUSLY I am no doctor, so before putting yourself on magnesium go get yourself a blood test to check your levels, and go see a professional (doctor, naturopath etc.) to know which combo of magnesium is best for you. But I REALLY recommend you go do that – magnesium has changed my life! If you’re not keen on taking supplements, nuts and seeds as well as dark leafy vegetables are good sources of magnesium – so you could try upping the intake of those instead!
3. Heat pack
This is another massive one. I get super, super, super tight shoulders and neck from studying. The position we sit in to study, work on the computer, drive, check our phones is all the same, and it is a position that puts a lot of strain on our shoulder girdle. A heat pack that can be draped over the shoulders is an amazing natural muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory. I pop my heat pack on my shoulders while I study (it is especially yummy now that we are really heading into winter), and also when I get into bed to release my muscles before I go to sleep. It is the most blissful feeling and I’ve found it’s really helped eased the tension in my neck.
Heat pack… or just go straight to the source and lie on the heater.
Obviously this is no new revelation. But it is a massive one for helping to manage stress so I didn’t think I could leave it out. A reminder, it is in times of stress where we start to tell ourselves things like “I don’t have time” to exercise because I need to (insert any excuse here). Next time you start to tell yourself that, change “I don’t have time” to “It’s not a priority”. So the sentence becomes: “it’s not a priority to exercise” – reframed like that, something may shift in you. Or it might not. It might be that today, because of your super hectic schedule, exercise is not a priority. But make sure tomorrow you check in with yourself again, and reprioritise.
Also, to get the stress-reducing benefits of exercise, you don’t need to go on a 10km run, or do an intense HIIT workout, you can do something as simple as a 30 minute walk around your neighbourhood. Sometimes when we’re really stressed mentally, the thought of straining the body physically is too much. That is completely fine! Just get out and walk. The fresh air, the movement will do wonders. Don’t let yourself forget that!
While you’re burning that lavender oil and have your heat pack going in the microwave, try a few of the stretches that I have set out in Stretching 101, or Supple Muscles: Neck or Supple Muscles: Back to release the last of that muscle tension before going to sleep. When we’re stressed everything starts to contract and seize. Therefore it’s super important to keep those muscles supple and long. Also, by stretching your body goes into a state of relaxation, which in turn triggers the brain into a state of relaxation. PERFECT for getting the good night sleep you need to consolidate all the important information you’ve been trying to learn throughout the day.
Make sure you drink lots and lots and lots of water to keep yourself hydrated and your body flushed as it is one of the best ways to counter the body being overexerted.
Make sure you eat LOTS of veggies as this will help to fight against all the yucky bugs and colds that circulate at this time of year. As we get busier and more stressed it’s super easy to turn to quick and easy (crappy) foods. Take an extra 15 minutes to plan something that will nourish your body and your mind.
Make sure you take a break to stretch your legs and clear your head. If you’re drinking enough water, mother nature should be reminding you at regular intervals to get up. But you should also make sure that you’re going to that gym class or for a walk or to kick the footy. Anything to get your limbs moving and the blood flowing. Even if it is just for half an hour the positive effects of seeing the trees and filling yourself with fresh air are immeasurable! This will also help your mind to focus better on the study tasks at hand.
SLEEP. Our brains cannot function at their optimal levels when they’re sleep deprived. Sleep is VITAL for consolidating new learning and for information processing, but sleep and exercise are often the first things that we sacrifice when we’re stressed and busy. Making sure you’re getting at least 7 hours a night is so important for study success!
Finally, to help counter the tight muscles that come from studying, particularly tightness in the neck, try some stretches before going to sleep. Not only will they help release tension in your shoulders, but they will also help you sleep better as they put your body and in turn your brain into a relaxed state – perfect for helping you shut down for the night.
None of my tips are new or original or groundbreaking. But they’re important nonetheless, and we all need reminders at this time of year. So consider this your reminder — look after yourself during this exam period, and put your mental and physical health first.