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Why you get Sick After Exams


It seems like Murphy’s Law in action. The second you finish exams (and get your life back) you come down with the flu. In reality, post-exam sickness is somewhat inevitable… and it’s not because your evidence lecturer poisoned the exam paper.

The Science

Numerous studies have shown that increased stress levels during exams cause hormonal changes in your body. Stress increases the levels of the hormone cortisol, which actually lowers your immune response. The fact that students who cram for exams are more likely to show signs of immune suppression is very telling. It’s little wonder that after weeks of sustained study stress, your immune system is shot to pieces. Given that it’s winter and a wide variety of bugs are already going around, it’s actually somewhat miraculous that most of us manage to avoid illness until after we put our pens down.

Avoiding the Dreaded “Post-Exam Death Flu”

The best way to avoid illness after exams is to reduce stress in the lead up to them. The ideal way to achieve this is through working consistently throughout semester to avoid the last minute cram… although we all know that’s probably a little unrealistic, and it’s certainly too late to consider it as an option for this exam session.

If you can’t reduce study stress, you should at least try to reduce other causes of stress in your life. Sport, meditation and breathing exercises can all assist to reduce your stress levels.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s worth seeing your doctor and consulting your uni about special consideration and supplementary exam options.

Given that it’s exam time, you probably haven’t had a lot of sleep recently. If there’s scope for getting an extra few hours kip each night, you should definitely make it happen. Not only will sleep help you to feel less stressed, it’s also fantastic for improving your focus. Notice how things seem so much brighter and more straightforward when you’ve had a good night’s sleep?

Although quick and easy food options are so tempting (we’re pretty big fans of the Vending Machine Diet and the House Arrest Diet), try to eat healthier foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables can really help your concentration, and many contain nutrients that will support your frazzled immune system. A good multi-vitamin can only compensate for so much poor eating. A 2004 study by Marcos et al found that immune suppression did not occur in students that consumed foods containing lactobacillus bacteria, so be sure to add yoghurt to your shopping list.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 20 June 2011.

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