Med school can be stressful, but I don’t want to pretend like I’m any more stressed than other people. I may have different stressors, but everyone has their own worries and anxieties no matter where they are in life.
As I’ve mentioned before, my school is especially focused on student wellness and trying to ease some of the anxiety and depression that medical students are prone to. That can only go so far, though, and so there is still a huge responsibility on students to actively manage stress ourselves. I have gotten asked to share some of the healthy ways I manage my stress, so I’m sharing them today. I hope these are helpful even if you aren’t in medical school.
Sleep makes everything better! Make sleep a priority. Maybe you need to count back the hours from when you need to get up, or watch less Netflix, or skip a workout one morning if you have to be up super late. Just please, sleep! Everyone needs a different amount, but the recommended amount is around 7 to 9 hours.
Even when it seems like the last thing you have time for, sleep. Sure you might cram more into your head if you stay up studying, but you won’t be able perform as well in the morning if you’re exhausted. I know I could get a lot more done if I slept less, but I am not as good of a person when I’m tired. I’m not as productive, nice, patient, or discerning. I’m not as healthy. It’s not worth it to me.
Print // I have this quote hanging next to my bed
2. Look at the bigger picture
It’s easy to get so stressed that we feel like our current situation is the end all be all. Like this one test, fight, interview, or project is the most important thing in the world. As humans, we tend to exaggerate the negatives and minimize the positives.
It helps to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Think about all the truly important things to you — your religion, your family, your health — and know that in the scheme of things you are doing A-okay. Maybe even realize that the amount of stress you are under is not what you want for yourself, and choose to let go of any perfectionism or impossible ideal you may be holding yourself to.
3. Practice Gratitude
We all have so much to be thankful for, and we have the ability to change our attitude about situations. You don’t have to write out a gratitude list every day, but some people find it really life changing.
Think of Actually say “get to“ instead of “have to.” Think of all the amazing people in your life that love and support you. There are so many people that would love to be in your shoes. Change your mindset!
Make exercise a regular part of your routine, whether it’s 3 days a week or every day. Find something you love and do it. It releases endorphins and it’s hard not to feel better after a good sweat!
If my mind is ever swamped and I can’t think straight (like on those long pre-test days), I take a break and get in some exercise. It can be just 5 minutes of yoga (like my 5 minute yoga video for sitting all day), some jumping jacks, a walk with the dogs, or a full workout at the gym. It always clears my head, gets out some energy, and leaves me refreshed and ready to get back to work.
5. Talk it out
Find that one friend that gets you and have a long talk. I have a friend I go on long walks with when we need to chat, and a few friends that I call when I need to vent and get some advice. They are my life savers.
6. Take time off
I am such a go-go-go person that even when I’m “resting”, I’m working. I blog while I watch movies with my roommates. When I’m taking a yoga class, I’m listening to the cues and thinking about how to incorporate them into the classes I teach.
I need to be better about shutting off and giving myself complete relaxation. I’ve been trying to read a non-school book before bed, put away technology while I’m hanging with my roommates, and actually allow myself to be completely unproductive. It’s not natural for me, but I’m slowly making progress!
Oh, and go out with friends. Have a glass (or two) of wine. Laugh hysterically. It’s good for you!
Maintaining a daily meditation habit is so hard for me, but it makes all the difference in my calm, productivity, and mindset. It helps me turn off the constant chatter and worry. My goal is to start each study session with 10 minutes of meditation to calm my mind, and to definitely get in meditation each day of my designated boards study period.
It doesn’t have to be traditional meditation (though there are great apps like Headspace and Insight Timer if that’s what you like!) — you can do moving meditations as well. Just calm your mind, focus on your breath, and get present.
8. Write it out
I am a total type A, checklist, color-coordinated calendar type of girl. I thought I’d use a paper planner in med school, but my google calendar has taken over since I can upload my class schedule to it. I also keep a bunch of sticky notes on my desk top to categorize my to-dos. For day-to-day things, I write out lists of what I have to get done on a piece of paper. And yes, I totally write down stupid little things I’ve already done just so I can check off more things. Scheduling out everything you have to do and seeing how it all fits in your day or week can be really soothing.
Another option for writing is to journal before bed. Writing out everything you’re worried about, or even just a list of the things you have to do the next day, helps get it out of your head so you can fall asleep more easily.
9. Get away from the situation
Being around other people that are stressed never helps. I often study at home because seeing everyone else studying, being farther along, or talking about how worried they are stresses me out. Its good to see your friends, and sometimes it’s impossible to avoid the situation completely, but learn your triggers and purposefully choose an environment that doesn’t add to your anxieties.
10. See A Professional
I am very pro-therapy, and have been very open about seeing therapists on the blog. It’s nice to talk to someone that isn’t involved in your regular life, and I highly recommend someone trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Even times when I’ve thought things were going pretty well, I manage to fill the whole hour with something or other! I could be good to schedule some appointments preemptively if you know there is a particularly stressful time coming up,
We are lucky that we have access to therapists at SLU for free, but most insurances cover it decently well. If needed, your therapist can recommend (and potentially prescribe) medication as well. Don’t be ashamed of asking for help.
BONUS: My brother got sick of me talking about things being stressful, so he told me to start calling things “watermelon-y” instead. It’s totally weird and random, but it’s also hard to be upset about something that’s “watermelon-y!” It’s now a regular family phrase.
- What do you do to relieve stress?