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Prioritizing health during midterms

With the fall semester over halfway through, every student on campus is most likely bogged down with their own particular load of problem sets, midterms and research papers—all of which seem to be inexplicably due at the same time. Along with the pressures of maintaining various extracurricular activities and friendships, the height of the academic semester can feel somewhat exhausting for the average Duke student. By the time most students wrap up for the year and begin their three-week hibernation during winter break, quite often the past fall semester will feel as if it blew by in flash. Unfortunately, for many, those countless espresso-filled late nights spent in Perkins studying for the latest EGR midterm seem to embody the sentiment of the Duke experience: work hard, and play hard later. Nonetheless, in such a high pressure academic and social climate, it remains important both for one’s mental and physical well-being to maintain a healthy, relaxing lifestyle here at Duke. 

One doesn’t have to be majoring in biology to know that prioritizing sleep and healthy eating habits during such a stressful time of year is key to maintaining mental and physical balance in between essays and study guides. Unfortunately, the average Duke student, according to a national study, gets way less than the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. While an overwhelming mountain of notes to review before exams might make staying up until the wee hours of the morning tempting, it’s important to remember that taking care of basic needs is an important foundation to success. Avoiding late night binges at Pitchforks and overconsumption of caffeine when working can help cut down on energy crashes and sluggishness. Balanced meals throughout the day with plenty of fruit and vegetables will provide much better fuel for cram sessions with peers than 1AM McDonald’s fries.

In addition to providing your body with the food and rest that it needs to function at maximum capacity, it’s also worthwhile to schedule in breaks. Relax and rejuvenate with fun and stress-free campus activities to break up large periods of intense studying. One option is simply taking a quick bus ride over to the Arts Annex and putting down the organic chemistry flashcards for an hour to paint, draw or sculpt something creative. Alternatively, if art isn’t your forte, there’s always a leisurely stroll through the Duke Gardens that can clear your head and stretch your muscles. Allowing yourself time to unwind and walk away from the stacks of study guides littering your desk can aid in avoiding burnout early on in the evening. 

Finally, in the endless cycle of studying, crashing and stressing that seems to dominate the lifestyles of so many Duke students, it is absolutely crucial to maintain social relationships. Studying in groups, especially among friends, can be helpful in creating a de-stressed, collaborative environment to go over lecture notes and help each other understand vital academic concepts. For students who study better in more solitary environments, setting lunch and dinner dates with friends in between study breaks can also be helpful to maintain important friendships at the height of midterm season. Moreover, celebrating the end of one’s midterm season does not always have to entail going out with friends and drunkenly staggering around the Shooters II dance floor. For best friends who have survived their midterms intact, a relaxing movie and a nice dinner could be a great alternative. Commitment to caring for yourself doesn’t need to stop after the last papers are turned in. All in all, as exam dates approach and word counts are painstakingly met, do yourself a favor and take care to remember the importance of healthy stress coping techniques and dietary habits. Your grades—and your body—will thank you later.

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