Following in my tradition of failing to post holiday posts around every major holiday, I want to talk about a special little event that always seems to creep its way into my holidays to stress me out. I call it the post-exam sickness, but other people just call it the common cold. It’s not just any kind of cold though. It’s that special kind of cold that usually only bothers you just after you finish exams.
Why It Happens
I love psychology, but biology always seems to creeps its way in… (Biology and I are not friends.) Anyway, there’s this thing called the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal). Stress activates your hypothalamus, which signals your pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). It travels through your bloodstream and triggers your adrenal cortex to secrete cortisol. Basically, cortisol is the stress hormone. It’s great for short-term stress situations, like if you were running away from a tiger – it increases your heart rate and blood pressure, decreases inflammation, and so on. Basically, it would give you the best chance possible of surviving that tiger attack. Unfortunately, it also suppresses your immune system. Good for short-term stress – not so much in other long-term situations.
What if I’m Not Running Away from a Tiger?
You’re right. You probably won’t find yourself running away from a tiger any time soon (I hope!) Anyway, the unfortunate truth is that the stress of exams is prolonged. We study for weeks at a time, we don’t eat properly, and we don’t get enough sleep. Our stress levels are high, which means that our cortisol levels are high. This means that your immune system will be suppressed for an extended period of time, which makes you vulnerable to getting sick. And what’s a common kind of sickness to get, especially in the winter time? Well, the common cold.
What Do I Do?
Sleep. As much as your body wants you to. If you feel tired, go to sleep. If you are bored, go to sleep. If your muscles refuse to cooperate with you, go to sleep. It goes on like this. Drink a lot of fluids, and only take medication if there’s something that you really need to do. Medication only helps the symptoms – it doesn’t cure your cold. Think of the cold as a prolonged hangover. You can take medication to help you feel better in the short term, but the only thing that can cure you is sleep, and a lot of it.