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Fit 5: Ways to relieve stress

Fit Five is a column by health science major and USF track sprinter Shannon Gordon. Drawing from her education and experience, Gordon lists five ways to improve health and fitness.

With the semester coming to a close, this time of year everyone is experiencing that nail-biting, hair-pulling, overeating feeling known as stress.

Yet stress is actually meant to be a good thing.

Its purpose is to be a natural defense reaction to prepare your body for upcoming threats. According to the Mayo Clinic, signals are sent to your brain when you are stressed out that increases your bodys production of adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and boosts energy supplies, and cortisol production affects the region of your brain that controls mood, especially motivation and fear.

However, your body often perceives the demands of everyday life as threats, leaving your body worn out and tense all the time. Apart from messing with you emotionally, excessive stress can lead to serious physical health issues, such as headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure and sleep troubles. Here are five natural tips to ease the tension and stress of exam week.

1. Stay active and have fun

As long as you prioritize, you can still watch your favorite TV show Tuesday night and go to the gym before dinner.

Taking breaks are essential during exam week, as studying for seven hours at a time is not going to do your body or your brain any good. Exercise helps boosts mental sharpness by increasing blood flow to the brain and can also relieve some nerves by releasing pent up energy from studying all day. Laughter reduces cortisol and increases health-enhancing hormones, so having fun is just as important in relieving stress as exercise.

2. Change your surroundings

Being in an area that is overcrowded, polluted or noisy can greatly increase stress. Find a calm and relaxing area free of distractions to study in or to take a break from studying, and mix it up throughout the week. Unfortunately, the Library is often overrun during exam week. If you enjoy studying in the Library but dont want to feel overcrowded, find a friend or two and rent out a private study room. If your room is your ideal study space, make sure it is free of clutter before exam week.

You can only sit in one area for so long, so try and make your studying as portable as possible. Getting outside to study can quickly reduce stress. The sun is an incredible mood-booster, and getting fresh air can help relax your body and revive your brain. Try setting different locations up to study for different subjects, so you do not have to lug all of your books around everywhere you go.

3. Manage your time beforehand

Having a set plan laid out in front of you can often relieve stress because you will know exactly when you have to get things done and how much time you have. If you have a plan, you can knock less important things off of your plate quicker and avoid procrastination.

More importantly, when planning out your time, make sure to plan time for breaks. Seeing these break times written down gives you a goal and can ease the tension of everything you have to do.

4. Sleep

Sleep is extremely important for your physical and mental health. You cannot be productive if you are sleep-deprived and constantly dozing off or fidgeting. Create a relaxation routine to help you calm down and get to bed on time.

The suggested amount of sleep for college age individuals is typically eight hours, but this can vary from person to person. You should be able to tell throughout the day if youve gotten too little or too much sleep, as both leave you feeling sluggish.

5. Eat well

Foods to avoid during stressed out times include sugar and excessive caffeine, as they can cause unnatural energy fluxes throughout the day. Energy drinks being the worst offender, high-sugar and high-caffeinate foods sometimes cause your energy levels to crash after consuming them.

To eliminate stress, you want your body to have a normal stream of energy throughout the day. Eating complex carbohydrates and lean proteins for breakfast and lunch, such as egg whites and toast, will help keep your energy levels up naturally. Caffeine may cause immediate spurts of energy, but it also dehydrates your body, leaving you feeling sick and weak.