Most students are relatively healthy. Despite this, minor illnesses are common and can be distressing, particularly at exam time because of exhaustion, rigid study deadlines and the pressure to perform at an optimal level.
Common complaints such as colds, flu, diarrhoea and vomiting often occur because students are stressed, sleep deprived and live in groups.
- Cold and Flu is best managed by adequate sleep, avoidance of strenuous physical exertion, maintenance of a high fluid intake (water and fruit juice) and medication such as paracetamol to relieve pain and high fever, decongestants for nasal stuffiness and lozenges for throat soreness. Antibiotics are not helpful as these infections are viral and usually run their course in five to ten days.
- Vomiting and Diarrhoea are best managed by adequate sleep, avoidance of strenuous physical exertion, maintenance of an appropriate fluid intake (water, black tea, dilute fruit juice, flat soft drink - not diet soft drink) and a low fat diet (apple, rice, bananas, dry biscuits, vegetables). Vomiting and diarrhoea may be due to infection but may also be secondary to severe anxiety and exhaustion. Medical attention is required for dehydration and severe or persistent symptoms.
Students frequently experience insomnia, headaches, anxiety, poor concentration, neck and back pain, indigestion and constipation at examination time. These symptoms can be prevented or minimised by adopting a healthy lifestyle and a common sense approach.
Self help measures
Aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling and rowing raises energy levels, improves concentration and improves the quality of sleep. Adequate sleep increases study efficiency. Study quality not quantity is important. Studying all night before an examination is a risky strategy that can result in exhaustion and severe impairment of performance the following day. Exercise also helps prevent constipation and haemorrhoids, which are occupational hazards of sedentary dehydrated, and busy students. With these points in mind:
- Maintain a routine. Work during the day, sleep at night. Students who slip into night shift mode or unusual work/sleep patterns often suffer exhaustion and disorientation
- Do not go straight to bed after ceasing work. Take a break and relax by taking a warm bath or shower, watching television, reading a book, listening to music. The activity should be calming
- Read a novel in bed until sleepy
- Meditate or perform relaxation techniques. Instruction in the latter is available from student support services
- There are many self-help guides, one of which is "Sleep Without Drugs" written by Dr. Moses Wong, published by Hill of Content, Melbourne
- Avoid excessive caffeine or other stimulants such as amphetamines and ephedrine. Stimulants can cause panic attacks, palpitations, insomnia and poor concentration
- Avoid excessive alcohol that is detrimental to concentration and causes depression and many other problems
- Avoid smoking that causes drug dependence and ill health. Examination is not the best time to try to quit!
- Avoid using marijuana as it can increase anxiety and confusion
- Drink plenty of water
- Do not skip meals, especially breakfast; maintain normal meal times
- Eat a diet high in unrefined carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, cereal, fruit, vegetables, and lean meat to help ensure a steady supply of energy to the body and the brain
- Avoid heavy, fatty or highly spiced meals
- Avoid soft drinks containing caffeine
- Take frequent short breaks. During periods of intense study it is important to get up walk and stretch
- The room should be bright, well ventilated and have a window. Rest your eyes by looking out of the window into the distance from time to time
- Good lighting is essential. Reasonable room lighting supplemented by task lighting (study lamp) is recommended. Avoid looking directly at the bulb or tube whilst studying and avoid excessive reflection from light surface such as the pages of a book
- A chair with supportive backrest is important for the lower back (lumbar) region. A cushion or pillow behind your back is a cheap solution. Your feet should be on the floor or supported by a footrest. Telephone books make a suitable footrest
- Desk: Sufficient leg and working space are necessary to avoid cramped postures. The desk should be at elbow level for writing and lower for typing. The top of the computer screen should be positioned at or slightly below your eye height, If copy typing use a document holder. The document or the screen should be directly in front of you, with the other (the one you are looking at least) just off centre at the same level
- Working at a desk stresses the neck muscles, as they have to support the weight of the head for long periods. This often results in neck pain and "tension" headaches. A good solution is to place your work on an angle that is achieved by buying an angled writing/reading board for you desk. An inexpensive solution for reading only is a cookbook stand. Leaning your textbook against telephone books whilst reading also helps and costs nothing
- Pen: You may experience pain in the wrist or hand with prolonged writing. If you develop a sore wrist or hand, reduce your writing, take regular breaks and get a larger diameter pen or a pen grip
ECU recognises that the application of good ergonomic principles will assist students in creating an environment conducive to study and so contribute to achieving successful course and unit outcomes. You are encouraged to apply good ergonomic principles in your study environment. For assistance in the application of these principles, please visit the University's ergonomics website www.hr.ecu.edu.au/osh
Common sense measures such as those discussed above are effective. If despite your best efforts you experience significant ill health, it is important to seek prompt medical advice from your doctor or the University Health Service, who should be informed of your examination commitments. It is also advisable to talk to your lecturer or Dean concerning your situation. If you apply for withdrawal without academic penalty or a special delayed examination, you should ask your doctor to write a certificate. You should preferably ask your doctor to provide your certificate on the ECU Medical Certificate form which is available online or from the Student Health Service.
We acknowledge the information provided by the University of Queensland.