Online exam season presents new challenges for staying healthy and active

Tech neck, sore eyes and disrupted sleep are but a few of the problems posed by solely digital learning. Here are a few remedies

Each time exam season rolls around, students are inevitably inundated with reminders on the importance of eating healthily, drinking enough water and staying active during exam season, for the sake of our mental and physical health. Whether or not you take heed of this advice, the new found prevalence of online learning poses a unique set of problems: hunching over a laptop causes so called “tech neck,” watching lectures and reading notes solely off screens strains our eyes, and being cooped up in the house is far from ideal for mental wellbeing. Here are a few solutions to common problems that you can try out this exam season.

If you frequently experience tension headaches accompanied by aches at the junction of your head and shoulders, it is entirely possible that you are suffering from tech neck (also called text neck). If you spend countless hours at your laptop watching recorded lectures, answering emails or taking notes, it is extremely important that you do so with good posture. Having the screen at eye level will help to avoid hunching. Stacking your laptop on top of a large book, and attaching a wired keyboard which you type on at table level will do wonders for your ability to keep a straight back and relaxed arms and shoulders. If this isn’t possible, try taking regular breaks from your computer. Stand up, stretch and walk around. Try rolling your shoulders slowly backwards and forwards to loosen them up, and slowly turning your head left, right, then up and down. If lockdown one taught us anything, it is that online yoga classes are plentiful. Yoga with Adrienne has some excellent and relatively short classes focused on back and shoulder pain, which you can easily fit in around a busy study schedule. Additionally, the DU Yoga society offers classes with their membership which are great for relieving stress and muscle aches.

“Don’t be afraid to take to the App Store or YouTube for some free guided workouts to get the blood flowing and give your mind a break from intense study.”

If yoga isn’t your thing, going for a run or a jog is a great way to get in some exercise and boost your endorphin levels. While we are of course currently limited to exercising within 5km of our homes, there are plenty of running apps that can make this confined journey a little bit more fun. The Adidas Running App by Runtastic links to Google Earth which is optimal for easy route mapping. It also syncs with Spotify so you can listen to music as you run. If you’re looking for something a little more novel, Zombies, Run! is a fun app. The more miles you run, the more supplies you get to help your village survive the zombie apocalypse. If you run too slowly, the zombies will catch you. While this may not be the most relaxing pre-exam activity, it is good if you want to get the endorphin high of covering a few miles, but aren’t feeling too motivated. If the weather is terrible and you don’t feel like venturing outside, the YouTube channel Fitnessblender offers countless indoor workouts, most of which don’t require any equipment. They have easy to follow tutorials on kickboxing, ab and upper body workouts, cardio, jumping rope, pilates and stretching, most of which will take you less than thirty minutes. Ultimately, don’t be afraid to take to the App Store or YouTube for some free guided workouts to get the blood flowing and give your mind a break from intense study.

Between computers and smartphones, we are currently taking in huge amounts of blue light which can cause eye strain, and also wreak havoc with your sleep cycle. Try turning down the brightness on your phone and computer, and try to socially distance how close your face is to the screen at any given time. There are also certain screen filters you can use to render the light more amber, or there are plenty of apps that offer blue light reduction modes. It is a good idea to sleep with no blue light in the room; turn off your phone or laptop, and ideally leave it in a different room. Avoid using screens for at least an hour before bed to improve the quality of your sleep. If you’re interested, there are also blue light filtering glasses available relatively cheap, which can be great for those long study sessions.

“While radically shaking up your diet and exercise routine isn’t a great idea around assessments, try to limit your caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake.”

Eating well and drinking enough water is of course vital for staying healthy around exam time. While radically shaking up your diet and exercise routine isn’t a great idea around assessments, try to limit your caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake (you can save indulging until after term ends). It is best to stay energised with slow release carbohydrates and healthy proteins and fats, rather than Monster energy, excessive coffee or sugary snacks that will cause you to crash soon after eating. Try and keep tasty and easy to prepare snacks like nuts, granola bars, or hummus with carrots on hand. If you find you struggle to drink enough water, when you begin studying in the morning, fill a full jug, and add some flavourings such as sliced lemon or lime, mint or berries to encourage you to drink more. Herbal tea such as chamomile, oat flower, ginger or cinnamon can also be a good way to relax before bed. Pukka tea does a large range of herbal combinations aimed at soothing stress or restlessness, which are available in many supermarkets.

You obviously won’t want to spend large amounts of time cooking during exams, so the week before assessments start, it can be helpful to cook something in bulk to eat for dinner or lunch during the week. Chilli con carne, vegetable stew, curry, or your favourite pasta sauce are all good choices which should keep quite well in the fridge for a few days. Try to avoid eating large quantities of simple carbohydrates midday; lots of pasta or bread can often make people sleepy, so if you’re going to eat this, try to save it for dinner rather than lunch, or risk conking out in the middle of a test.

These are but a few suggestions for how to keep healthy and active as we approach another challenging exam time. If you find you are suffering persistently from sleeplessness, anxiety or similar issues, there are a number of supports available in College such as the Student Counselling Centre and Health Centre. None of the above information is a substitute for medical advice.

Grace Gageby

Grace Gageby is the Deputy Comment Editor for Trinity News and studies English and Philosophy.