Sandy W.

asked • 06/20/13

Why would a person would get sick from studying for a test? What are strategies that alieve testing sickness?

What would cause this? I understand that stress can cause one to get sick on test day or after test and am used to that, but have never experience this in studying for any other test included SAT,and PSATS. Does that mean there is a problem with the study strategy?

L Jacque C.

Stress is in the eyes of the beholder!

The term “Stress” has become this shapeless formless entity that everyone understands but few can define.

Physiologically stress is an internal or external stimulant that produces a measurable response within the body, positive or negative. It is what makes humans so wonderfully adaptive. Human biology and its subspecialties call this the “Fight or Flight reaction”. The adrenal glands (quarter sized) organs located at the upper poles of the kidneys (retroperitoneum of the abdomen). The adrenal glands are responsible for making several very important hormones one of which is GLUCOCORTICOID.

Several Glucocorticoids are produced but the one we are most familiar with is Cortisol.  Cortisol is produced unlike any other hormone within the body and it’s called the Circadian Rhythm. Cortisol levels peak twice, once at approximately 6 a.m. and again mid afternoon and corresponds to the need for maximum wakefulness amongst other functions.

Peak levels and nadir periods remain fairly constant under times of low physical and psychological challenge. However under times of extreme physical challenge or above average sustained challenge the Cortisol levels at nadir and peak levels increase. Psychological challenge is different as PERCEPTION is a key component. For example, I love dogs even a stray regardless of breed I am comfortable and as a child I was attacked twice by dogs. My wife on the other hand has never been attacked by a dog but she becomes hysterical when she encounters a dog, trained or not.

Brief elevations of Cortisol usually don’t cause problems but SUSTAINED increases in Cortisol will absolutely change the body’s physiology! Adrenaline (Epinephrine) levels (increased heart rate, dilated pupils and blood shunting from the GI system [stomach motility decreases-nausea] and Integument system [skin-cold clammy skin]) will follow elevated Cortisol. Sustained elevated Cortisol will impair the Immune system (decrease motility of phagocytes [neutrophils, macrophages, monocytes]) which lowers your resistance to respiratory infections (cold symptoms).

Those persons that have a global view of tests or testing that it’s nothing special despite of readiness to pass or fail don’t have changes in Cortisol level. The same is true for very psychologically reactive persons that are experienced and have a well rehearsed plan for tests no Cortisol level change occurs. But those who place high value on tests and have low confidence matched with low preparation are primed for poor sleep, irritability and.  .  .  The sniffles (please past the tissue)!

Strategies to avoid illness, first and foremost is TIME management. Those not accustom to strict adherence to time management will come across as arrogant or stuffy but the best time managers have it down to an art and are seen as the nicest people but wow really smart! Want people to see you as nice and smart, find a study group that seems to understand rigid time management and model after the smartest member that is well liked.

Within your time management plan schedule 15-30 minutes of intense aerobic exercise. Why? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but it’s about the physiology. Elevated Cortisol and adrenaline can only be fought by burning off the body’s adrenaline, EXERCISE. Now, lowered adrenaline calms your nerves and stabilizes your emotions, can you say bye-bye to anxiety, wave for me. Of course the equally valuable benefit of exercise and lowered Cortisol and adrenaline will be improved restful sleep.

Finally, if you are not a “Black belt” expert in study skills spend every free waking moment becoming one. How? We all forget that our teachers or professors had to master them, start there, but as it’s been mentioned in this blog your tutors and do forget your classmates that are killing the tests know the tricks.

“The divineness in me recognizes the divineness in you”

Good Luck


Marta S.

Very well said. I have one degree but I was recently very sick (surgery) and had to stay in bed. The pain was excruciating. It forced me to read articles online and find real information, facts not blabber. It got me interested in biology. So, now, a decade after my first degree I am considering going back for a second. I must say, as I study it's a completely different process. I am hardly nervous. It really is about time management. 


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