How to survive the exam flu

Why is it that every time I have mid-terms or finals coming up my nose starts running? Here are a few easy tips I've found to help keep the dreaded exam flu out of my life.

Woman lying in bed blowing her nose into tissue Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

With the start of a new semester, energy is high. Perhaps you’re excited for a new set of classes, or maybe you’ve decided to seize the day and meet new people. No matter the reason, a new semester provides the opportunity to work harder than the one before. But before you dive in, there are a few important things to remember to prevent or decrease your chance of catching what I like to call the dreaded ‘exam flu.’

So, what is the exam flu? It’s that runny nose, annoying cough, and intense exhaustion you experience around the midterms or finals. The symptoms get in the way of studying, which causes stress and, in turn, worsens those very symptoms. It's a wicked cycle. I can’t say for certain why the exam flu exists, but I do know it appears like clockwork. And while it's annoying, its punctuality gives us the upper hand to seize control of its powers.

Out of all the lessons I’ve learned at Dal so far, the one that comes as most of a shock is how hard it is to take care of myself. I don’t mean eating my vegetables or drinking enough water—I mean the difficult task of nursing myself back to health on my own. While I have my friends who kindly deliver medication and soup, the process of carrying on with my life while sick is much harder than I thought.

But don’t worry—I’ve gathered the three excellent tips on how to survive and/or prevent this looming threat to reclaim its powers and take control of your exam seasons.

Vitamin C

I’m sure you’ve all heard the adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but in this case replace the apple with an orange, and you got it! Vitamin C is essential for your immune system—the very system that gets run down during those 5am study sessions and three-coffee days. Incorporating vitamin C into your daily diet can help build a strong immune system to fight off the flu bug native to finals week. Here are a few (but not all) foods that are high in vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits, etc. This includes fruit juice!)
  • Bell Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Bell Peppers
  • Tomatoes


I know, you know, we all know that sleep is important. It's essential. But we also know that with each day inching closer to finals, sleep becomes a second thought, and the time we usually spend sleeping becomes crunch time. Sometimes there’s nothing that can be done: schedules become too full as there's too much to do, and sleep takes up a lot of our day. But if there's one thing to take away from these tips, it is to GET SOME REST!

Being exhausted while trying to learn for five hours is much less effective than learning while well-rested for two. But that’s just my opinion. Perhaps you’re the type of person to thrive under the pressure of midnight study cramming. Regardless, pencil in a time to curl up on your bed, on a couch, on a study room floor and close your eyes. It doesn’t matter the time of day so long as you allow your body to catch up on the rest it needs to absorb all the information you’ve been so diligently reviewing.


Finals are intense. They can make you feel like you're trapped in a windowless box, forced to stare into the screen of a never-ending slide of information. For me, despite making friends in my classes, the studying process often makes me feel isolated—like I have a mile to run ahead, but with each step, the path grows longer and longer. It’s in times like these that self-care becomes essential.

Whether it’s listening to music, watching my favourite movie or TV show, calling my family, or hanging out with my friends, taking time for myself puts life into perspective. There’s more to life than school. And even though it seems like that’s impossible when you’re dealing with exams, our lives are not defined by a single test score. Yes, they’re important, but they’re not all there is to life, and taking time to take care of yourself reminds you that you’re just as important as the grade you’re striving for. Not to mention, putting down the textbooks and doing something that makes you happy can help clear your mind and create a fresh slate for your next study session.

I think it’s safe to say that getting run down during mid-terms or finals is inevitable. But it doesn’t have to make your life any harder than exams already do. Whether it be getting more rest or drinking a glass of orange juice in the morning, taking care of yourself not only makes you feel good but also makes for a smoother and healthier semester.

For more tips on how to deal with the flu or bad colds, read Leanne Richardson's article, "How to survive cold and flu season."