Stress management is a vital part of success within medical school (and really for anyone who is super busy). There are many good and bad ways to manage stress. I’ve seen classmates truly crack under the pressure that medical school puts on them, on top of all of the other life responsibilities they have. We have had several sessions on relaxation techniques, which taught us benefits of meditation, guided imagery and yoga. Although these are great options, sometimes I feel like I don’t even have enough time to learn how to do these things then make more time to do them. It almost stresses me out more, ha!
With my neuro two examination finally out of the way, I’ve had a little time to reflect on how stressed I’ve felt recently. I thought this would be a good time to compile a list of some of the stress management techniques that have really worked for me over the past year and a half of medical school. I think its important to realize medical school is a whole different beast that requires some creative thinking to master. Again, these are things that worked for me, but its important to figure out what works for YOU. Hopefully these tips are a little bit different than the ordinary, “eat healthy, sleep and exercise” advice we get for stress relief.
Things you can do WHILE you study:
1. Scents. For me awakening my senses is very relaxing. I think we can all agree there is a certain sigh of relief when we light our favorite sugar cookie candle during the holiday season. Use scent therapy while you are studying! It is something that literally takes two seconds that can put you in a better mood or make you more relaxed. One thing I’m excited to try out is aromatherapy! My mom got some scents and is sending me a few. 🙂
2. Make a cup of tea. I recommend Hi-Caf teas for study time because they have the same amount of caffeine (if not more) in comparison to coffee. You can get them at Whole Foods or online! If you aren’t studying and need a relaxing cup, my recommendations are green, mint or chamomile for bed time.
3. Try a face mask. Okay, don’t do this in the library because you will scare everyone, but at home this is awesome. I started using theTony Moly sheet masks (they are reasonably priced on Amazon too). You will literally look like a serial killer, but they all smell amazing and my skin feels awesome after. They even have one that has red wine in it, which is definitely my kind of beauty therapy.
Things to do when you’ve hit your limit and need a short break:
1. Take a walk with a friend. Even if its just for five minutes, this will help reduce your level of stress.
2. Have a dance party. I used to do this all the time during my first year! Its bound to end in a few laughs.
3. Write down or say aloud one good thing that happened today or one thing you are happy about. B always asks me this when I have a bad day. I come home angry and he just stops me and says, “Aleah, what is one good thing that happened today?” It may take me a few minutes to get on board and think positively, but this always helps keep things in perspective. Even if your day has gone totally wrong, there is always one thing we can find to be happy about.
4. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Pull up your favorite photo from your white coat ceremony or college graduation. YOU have accomplished a lot more than many people in this world. Give yourself credit for working so, so hard to get to wherever you are today. Success doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t come quickly.
5. Connect with someone via touch. I know that probably sounds weird, but it is a huge stress relief to just be touched. Hug your best friend or trade massages with a significant other.
Things to do to get organized and inevitably lower stress for later:
1. Create realistic goals. If you make a list of 20 things to get in one day it probably won’t happen. It’s better to make a few goals for each day. I like to split mine up into study goals and life goals. By life goals I mean things that need to get done for me to be a productive human being (aka pick up the dry cleaning, grocery shop or clean the bathroom). Its a lot easier to relax when you know those things are completed.
2. Prep the night before. Before I go to sleep I always double check my schedule for the next day. I make sure if I need to dress up or have my white coat I set those things out so I don’t forget. I also make sure to have my lunch ready to go and coffee timer set for the AM. This leads to less scrambling in the morning and a smoother day all together.
3. Anticipate stress. If you have an exam coming up prepare for your stress to hit an all-time high. If you can prep meals in advance, plan a reward for post-exam time or pencil in a phone call with an old friend to help you de-stress do it. For me I have the Step 1 exam coming up and I’ve already put money aside and penciled in a few manicures and a massage because I know I’ll need some relaxation time.
4. Take steps to fix your worries. For example, one of my friends has had trouble eating healthy and cooking while in medical school. So, she took steps to fix her problem. She started ordering healthy food from Blue Apron. This service delivers all the ingredients you need for healthy meals to your doorstep and gives you step by step instructions to prepare your meal. For me, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting to the gym. So, I found a home workout plan that is a lot more manageable for me.
Little things you can embed into your life:
1. Remember when I mentioned scents? I buy Method brand hand soap (pomegranate and vanilla chai being my favorites) and put these in my bathroom and kitchen. I always get a little energy boost when I wash my hands because these scents are seriously amazing. Leaving little mood boosters around really helps me, even if they are as simple as hand soap.
2. In general, I like to tackle the hardest tasks first. They are the ones that are weighing on me the most. Once I get these big things done, I can be more productive, rather than ruminating on this huge thing that I’m anxious about.
3. Focus on what you do know and what you are good at. It’s so easy to participate in self-judgment, and never truly tell yourself that you have kicked butt so far. When studying for exams remember you know A LOT. Focus on what you know and don’t sweat the small stuff. I remember being really nervous for my first organ systems exam and my little brother told me, “You’ve studied hard and you know all of the material. The exam is just the time to spit it back out and brag.”
4. Learn to say no. Are you so stressed that you have trouble sleeping? Then don’t tell your friend you can help plan their birthday party or take on more responsibility in one of your clubs. You DON’T need to do everything. It’s not the end of the world and they will find someone else. It’s really hard to say no, but its vital to listen to what your body is telling you and back off when needed.
5. Appreciate (and make use of) the time you do have to yourself that is built in stress free time. For me there are only two times during the day that I can guarantee I can’t do anything else but focus on that task. So, I count them as blessings. You may laugh, but these two times are my commute to school and during my shower. If I have to commute anyways and I can’t really do anything else in the car, I take that time to not think about school and instead listen to an awesome playlist of music. When I shower I make sure I take some time to clear my mind and also use scent therapy (my shampoo has eucalyptus in it, it’s amazing).
6. Be OK with being a beginner. One of my favorite quotes goes like this, “Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.” Dale Partridge nailed it. You can strive to get an A on that exam, but remember that we all need to start somewhere. There will always be room for improvement, and that’s a good thing. I remember I did OK on my first organ system exam and kind of beat myself up for it afterwards. Looking back, I realize that I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself. This was something new that I had to master and now I have, after hard work and dedication.
Hopefully, this list gives you some new ideas! Stress really isn’t going away for any of us, but we can learn to manage it better and be a little more positive. This is going to be a life long process for me, but I’m happy I’ve taken a lot of steps in the right direction.
In other news, I got my track for my third year! Time is seriously flying!! I’m almost half way to getting my MD. Getting my track assignment basically means I know the order I will rotate through which department and who I will be doing it with. Our school does a lottery and I happened to get lucky and get my top pick! My schedule is as follows:
Internal medicine (8 weeks)
Pediatrics (8 weeks)
Surgery (8 weeks)
Capstone (1 week)
Family Medicine (6 weeks)
Psychiatry (6 weeks)
OB/GYN (6 weeks)
Capstone (1 week)
Ophthalmology (1 week)
Neurology (4 weeks)
I’m super excited (and nervous) for third year. It will be a huge change from being in the classroom, but I’m sure it will be very rewarding.