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These 5 Lifestyle Tools Will Lower Exam Stress

Longevity logo Longevity 2017-10-26 Kheyrne Danu

exam stress | Longevity Live © Jacob Lund exam stress Keeping our children and ourselves sane and healthy when exam stress hits is a challenge for any parent. Thankfully there are many lifestyle tools to help lower stress impact and increase concentration and memory. We share the most important tools to make next exam time a stress free experience.

How do we react to stress?

a hand holding a piece of paper: exam stress | Longevity Live © Provided by ZA Celebrityworx Pty Ltd exam stress | Longevity Live “People respond differently to stress,” explains Pharmacist Brent Murphy, head of product development at Solal Technologies. “Some people when they are stressed go into an anxiety-like state when they are anxious their body produces the hormone cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

The unfortunate thing about cortisol is it blocks the brain's ability to form and recall memories.” Some people may think they work better under stress, but for most this is not the case. The more stress we are under the more support we need to give our body and brain.

Food is foundation

Thinking burns a lot of energy. The more stressed we are when we are concentrating the more brain fuel we need. As the cogs in our head run at full speed they also produce a lot of toxic by-products’, therefore eating healthy wholesome, alkalizing food not only gives us brain-fuel it also helps keep our system clear.

“It really comes down to the food you put in your stomach. That to me is paramount,” shares Dr Michael Venter, Cape Town-based Nutritionist and Integrative Medicine practitioner. “So for that critical period of learning, we are looking at eating correctly. Focus on foods that are low glycaemic. Get a good balance between the protein foods and the vegetables on the plate, around 50/50 is a good ratio.

Venter’s tips:

  • If you eat grain-fed animal products, as opposed to grass-fed animal products, you need to reduce your intake. Grain-fed meat is very high in omega 6, which creates inflammation.
  • We need to eat fats and oils, like coconut and olive oil, but you would stay away from grain oils. In fact, keep grains and cereals low in general.
  • Starting the day with lemon juice and water really helps the system to alkalize allowing the brain to function optimally. Organic apple cider vinegar is also wonderful at alkalizing the system and helping one stay hydrated. Put two cups of apple cider vinegar in 500mls of water and slowly sip it throughout the day. Sipping water instead of gulping down a glass also prevents the need for constant trips to the toilet.
  • Turmeric and ginger tea (you can mix with green rooibos tea for added flavour and antioxidants) also helps reduce the gut stress from the tension and anxiety as well as preventing inflammation.
  • person sitting on a wooden table: healthy eating | Longevity Live © Provided by ZA Celebrityworx Pty Ltd healthy eating | Longevity Live A great trick that I do every morning is to make a Nutribullet “gazpacho type soup” blend to get my main brain-food in for the day. I use spinach, cucumber, lemon, avocado, salt and pepper, MCT or coconut oil and fresh herbs. It’s important to also eat some solid protein for breakfast like eggs to sustain the blood sugar level.

Stable Blood Sugar = Happy Brain

“Your diet should be low in refined carbohydrates such as sugar, wheat, pasta, bread, which all cause insulin fluctuation,” says Murphy. “If insulin goes up and down, your energy goes up and down. The brain does require glucose as an energy source but if you consume sugar your body reacts by overproducing insulin. Insulin takes the sugar out of the bloodstream and it stores it as either as glycogen in the liver (you can only store 500g) or as fat.

The result is that you get fatter, but more importantly, there is no more glucose left in the bloodstream because your body has bound it up with insulin. Therefore you don’t get the energy that the brain needs to function. Yet carbohydrates from whole vegetables and fruit provide a slow consistent energy supply.”

Brain Inflammation

“Even if it is for a short period of your life, you should stay away from junk foods, high sugar and everything processed,” adds Dr Venter. ”High amounts of omega 6 or sugar found in processed foods trigger intercellular inflammation. This sends the body into a state of crisis and activates the immune system, which in turn suppresses the neurological system. All refined foods are counterproductive to learning.”

Are Stimulants the Answer?

“Some people believe that taking some form of stimulant can help them to focus on their work,” says Murphy. “The problem is that stimulants such as caffeine (like guarana), work by increasing adrenaline and when adrenaline increases the anxiety and cortisol increases. So one has to be very careful with teenagers that one doesn’t give a stimulating focus supplement, which could make anxiety levels worse. Caffeine and artificial stimulants not only raise damaging hormones, they prevent supportive hormones from being formed in the body.”

Stress-Supporting Supplements:

To support the brain and the body we need supplements that will reduce cortisol and balance insulin as well as increase brain function and rest. So not only will the student feel less stressed, but they will be able to focus and form memories more easily.

Adaptogens – “Supplements that enhance mental focus and concentration and memory are called adaptogens,” shares Murphy. “A true adaptogen will help your body to increase or decrease cortisol according to what your body actually needs. It will always act as a buffer. Two great adaptogens are Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwagandha. One study on Rhodiola showed how it helped increase mental and physical performance in medical students. They also help endurance and prevent fatigue. I would suggest the product Stress Damage Control by Solal. During exams, I would suggest doubling the dosage to two capsules twice a day.”

exam stress | Longevity Live © Provided by ZA Celebrityworx Pty Ltd exam stress | Longevity Live Omega 3 – “The highest source of the right omega 3 is from fish oil,” says Dr Venter “We need high DHA for good brain function, but we also need high EPA to reduce inflammation. Your Omega 3’s are really of the utmost importance. We need 650 to 900mg DHA. The ultrarefined omega 3 oils are great, as they are concentrated omega 3 DHA and EPA, plus the heavy metals are filtered out. Xymogen Omega 3 is excellent quality. For vegans algae, oil is a good substitute.”

Vitamin B Complex – “We need the B vitamins for our brain to function well and to calm the nervous system,” says Dr Venter. “Patrick Holfords H Factor supplement is far better quality and dosage than most.”

Spirulina and Blue Klamath Algae – Are whole food multivitamin, mineral, enzyme, protein and phytonutrient supplements. In other words serious brain fuel. Dr Venter feels that algae are so nutrient dense one knows the foundation of health is being taken care of. Algae has been a staple food in the diets of people worldwide from the Americas to Asia for thousands of years, providing up to 25% of their total diets.


Exercise not only helps the body to use up excess cortisol and adrenaline from stress, it also calms the nervous system and helps the mind relax. Even a 20-minute jog a day will drastically improve one's concentration levels and stress capacity.

Build the Brain with Sleep

“If you don’t get enough sleep your cortisol levels rise,” explains Murphy, “Around 9pm, when one starts to feel sleepy, this is because your cortisol levels are going down. This is a good time to go to bed. This is when your brain consolidates all your memory and when your body performs healing. However, if you stay up later, sometimes you suddenly feel awake again, like a second wind. This is because your body has forced itself to produce a second secretion of cortisol. The problem is that when you do go to sleep you will do so with high levels of stimulating cortisol in your system, which is not a good thing. This will prevent deep restorative sleep.

Try and get to bed and sleep around 9.30 or 10pm at the latest. Together with a healthy lifestyle and diet, you can beat the exam stress and just focus on being the best in your exams.

Unschedule your weekend for some stress relief. Follow the link to read more on how to lower stress levels.

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