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Helping teens ease their stress during finals week

Frances Zappalla, DO, offers some advice on how to calm the nerves of our kids during finals. It can be easy as simply taking time to breathe and getting a good night's rest.

Today's guest blogger is Frances Zappalla, DO, a pediatric cardiologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

Stress is common in our daily life.  We now know about the link between stress and disease because of the mind-body connection.  This time of year may be particularly stressful for students with finals just around the corner.  There are many ways to help ease day-to-day stress.

One way is simply to breatheBreathing is the part of our autonomic (or automatic) nervous system that we have control over.  When we make ourselves breathe slower, deeper, and more regularly, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms our bodies and minds.  The more you practice your breathing, the stronger that part of your nervous system gets - so when you're in a stressful situation you can use slow, deep breathing to calm yourself down.

Take your breathing further and try meditation.  Meditation has been found to be beneficial in relieving pain and stress.  It helps to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and boost concentration, even in children with attention deficient disorder.  Find a quiet spot where no one will disturb you.  Shut off the phone.  Sit quietly and close your eyes.  You do not need to sit in the lotus position to meditate; you can sit in a chair with your hands on your lap.  Now pay attention to your breathing.  When thoughts or sounds come, notice them, but do not respond, just let them go.  Aim for 10 minutes to start.  Try to work up to 20 minutes twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening and see what happens. You may find that you can "trigger" relaxation and reduce anxiety with the use of breathing techniques.

Aerobic exercise is another great way to help relieve stress.  Take a break from studying and go for a brisk walk or run.  Play 30 minutes of basketball, dance, or use an exercise video.  You'll feel more refreshed and ready to go back to studying.

Certain teas can also help to relieve stress and anxiety.  Chamomile, peppermint , and lemon balm teas have been used for centuries to relieve stress and calm the body.

You've heard it before, but a good night's sleep is very important in so many ways. For test-takers, a rested body and mind may contribute to student success.  Eat breakfast that includes fiber and protein to keep your blood sugar steady and your mind alert.  Try whole grain toast with peanut butter or Nutella and sliced bananas, or a fruit smoothie made with yogurt, milk, frozen mixed berries, a handful of baby spinach leaves (pulverized for those who don't like to eat them as is).

Caffeinated drinks are not the best option.  Caffeine is a drug that can cause your heart rate to increase and, in some of us, actually cause an abnormal heart rhythm.  It can also lead to or increase anxiety.

Try these holistic stress relief techniques and good luck with finals!

P.S. For studying a lot of material that requires memorization, I always found making my own flash cards helpful

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