Avoid the temptation to stray from a healthy diet
Dr Anu Ruusunen, Health Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin’s School of Medicine, and Deakin PhD candidate, Meghan Hockey, explain that although chronic stress is often associated with a greater preference for foods that are high in sugar and fat, it’s common to experience a decrease in your desire to eat ordinary meals when you’re stressed.
‘Food reward and emotional eating also increases during stress,’ say Dr Ruusunen and Hockey. ‘As many as 35% to 60% of people report eating more total calories when they experience stress,’ filling up on pizza and soft drinks instead of fish and vegetables.
In the short-term, this comfort food is associated with decreased perceived stress and improved mood. ‘In the long-term,’ they say, ‘healthier dietary patterns are known to be associated with better mood.’ Plus, ‘we know that a healthy diet may play an important role in our stress-regulation system.’
Their advice? A diet high in veggies, fruit, fish and healthy oils like nuts.
Try not to anticipate the worst
No amount of good food, healthy movement, or positive thinking will change the fact that you just don’t know what the future looks like. Professor Michael Leiter from Deakin’s School of Psychology, says this anticipation can drive intense anxiety. Luckily, he also has some tips for managing each of the contributing factors.
‘First, anticipating serious harm or loss from a future event is stressful,’ he says. So, if you’re worried you might have a poor ATAR score, your mind can go into overdrive thinking about the potential consequences. What will be the impact on your career, or your family support?
The second anxiety driver is self-confidence. ‘It’s great to believe that, whatever happens, I have the skills, friendships and emotional resilience to make everything turn out fine,’ Prof. Leiter says. Anticipating a potential distressing outcome – like a low ATAR – might be stressful, but believing you will cope with the outcome has the opposite effect.
Thirdly, the way our brains work changes in times of uncertainty. Representativeness heuristics affects how we make reasonable judgements about the future, based on other people’s experiences. So, if you hear stories about people who were surprised by poor ATAR results, you’ll start to think that applies to you, too, even if it’s really unlikely.
Prof. Leiter’s advice is simple: be realistic about the future, have accurate information about probabilities, and recognise you have the tools to deal with the outcome, whatever it might be.
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