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Coping with stress

Whether it’s from calving season or exam time — here’s some tips

If there is one word that can strike terror into the hearts of people it is exams. Like any other stressful event in life, if a person takes some time for preparation they really aren’t all that bad. It is a matter of being able to meet the physical, mental and emotional challenge of the test. For livestock producers baby season would be the equivalent to exam week. For our family it stretches out for months due to our multi-species operation, therefore, utilizing these tips is very important for us making it through to the other side as healthy as possible.

The first step to minimize test anxiety is to identify whether it exists or not. The following are some of the signs that may indicate a problem:

  • Mental blank-out;
  • Racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating;
  • Negative thoughts about past performance, consequences of failure, or how everyone else is doing;
  • Knowing the answers after the test, but not while taking it;
  • Nausea and/or cramps;
  • Faintness and sweating;
  • Headache and dry mouth;
  • Increased breathing rate and fast heartbeat;
  • Tense muscles.

Looking back on our first calving season there was a lot of anxiety. The first step in stopping the anxiety is knowledge, so I learned about every possible disastrous calving event that could happen. Once normal cow labour was identified I could make a checklist and memorize it, and if the cow deviated from that I could call a more experienced person for advice. This same procedure can be used by any student taking a test.

Sleep deprivation also increases test anxiety, so staying up all night cramming for an exam is not helpful. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can contribute to memory loss and lack of concentration. This is also a problem for livestock producers. Our family has combated this with taking shifts and again, knowledge. When a person is confident that everything is fine then they can rest. When the shift changes, the person who is being relieved needs to let go, shut off their mind and sleep. This ability comes with the knowledge that their replacement is capable.

As well as being mentally prepared we must be physically prepared. Research shows that the right food and drink can minimize stress and keep us healthier, so to minimize test anxiety, eat on a regular basis, including breakfast. Choose protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Good breakfast combinations might be whole grain cereal with milk, eggs and toast with jam, porridge, oatmeal, or muesli. It is a good idea to eat small meals to keep from feeling sluggish during a stressful time.

Other dietary choices considered to be brain foods are fish, walnuts, blueberries, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, dried fruits, figs, and prunes. Although unproven, many consider fruit to provide excellent brain fuel, which can help you think faster and remember more easily. Try cantaloupes, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, or bananas. In terms of vegetables, raw carrots, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are good choices.

To maintain mental clarity, foods to avoid are ones made of white flour, such as cookies, cakes, and muffins, which require added time and energy to digest. Do not have turkey as it contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid which makes you feel sleepy. Also, avoid certain combinations such as protein-rich and carbohydrate-rich foods eaten together. These substances require added time when they have to be digested together. When eaten alone, carbohydrates make you feel more relaxed than alert. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, such as chocolates, desserts, and candies, as they will send you off on sugar highs and lows which are undesirable.

Hydration is very important to maintaining mental clarity. Brain-boosting beverages do NOT contain sugar or caffeine, and fruit juices can cause the same sugar spikes as soda pop so drink cautiously.

Once the first birth of the season is over the anxiety should lessen. This exam is better than high school algebra because we get our grades instantly, and the passing mark is when the new addition is up and sucking and the momma is well and healthy herself.

Stay healthy, enjoy the season and maybe some of this information might help your house survive school exams also.

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