If you’re a pre-med gunner, you understand the obscene amount of stress that goes along with preparing for, then applying to, medical school. When every undergraduate class grade effects your GPA, a tenth of a GPA point can mean the difference between an interview invite or a rejection. That makes every exam seem overwhelmingly significant.
While there is no escape from the constant pressure to excel until graduation day, it’s critical that we learn tips for dealing with stress correctly. Poorly managed stress can turn into a chronic, debilitating anxiety that if left untreated, can lead to anxiety and panic disorders, weight gain, depression and overall poor health. Problems can arise if we refuse to acknowledge and confront this stress we deal with every day.
Forbidden Territory: Mental Health
In our society we don’t like to talk about mental health, but if you want to live a full life and become a well-rounded, happy professional it’s imperative that we dialogue about this. If you feel overwhelmed by life and feel like you’re drowning, or if you ever have episodes of profound, disarming anxiety, never hesitate to see your primary care doc. He/she has tools and therapies that can benefit you in your path to success. There’s absolutely no shame in seeking help from a medical professional! (As future doctors, you’d think we accept this as common sense, but it’s often presumed a weak cliché.)
I’m going to offer some pointers and strategies for dealing with stress that have proved extremely useful to me and to pre-meds I’ve consulted. Not every solution offered works equally for everyone. It’s important to find what works for you and stick with it.
Dealing with Stress: Meditation
Meditation comes in many forms. Ranging from guided meditation recordings to taking a quiet walk through a park at sunset, the key to an effective meditation experience is quiet self-evaluation and introspection. It’s about severing ties from the world and letting yourself focus on your inner self. There are guided recordings like this Stress Relief Meditations Guide or books that teach you the basics of meditation like Real Happiness Meditation: 28-Day Program Guide. Remember, meditation is about quiet introspection. Many people find relief in prayer or sitting in a quiet room reflecting on their feelings. When you learn to relax in this way, you can turn your focus from things that make you feel anxious to things that bring inner peace and strength.
If you’re new to meditation, it may seem strange, but with experience it can become a true respite from the stress of life. If you can create a time in your busy schedule to meditate, you’ll likely see a difference in your stress level.
Dealing with Stress: Exercise
Taking time to exercise can seem almost impossible in our crazy pre-med world. With classes and extra-curricular activities demanding so much time, taking an hour out of any day to get away from it all seems like a stretch. That said, exercise not only allows you to get away from the daily hustle, but it can offer a beneficial, heart rate-boosting, endorphin-releasing escape from homework and tests. It’s a scientific fact that regular exercise, in all of it forms, reduces stress levels and combats the dangerous effects of chronic stress.
Exercise can range from the typical to the creative: for one person it might mean lifting weights at the gym or jumping onto the treadmill. It may be as simple as a jog around campus or a few laps in a campus pool. If getting out of the house is tough (especially during the winter months), workout videos and DVDs are another great, structured form of exercise without having to shell out the bucks for a gym membership. Check out some highly rated DVDs on Amazon…I’m including the links here:
There are countless ways to satisfy your inner workout fiend. Find a regular workout routine that works for you and stick to it. From personal experience I can attest to the fact that it’s a huge stress reducer, while improving overall health.
Dealing with Stress: Ahhh, Music!
This is one of my favorite stress reducers….There’s absolutely nothing like jamming to my favorite song, with nothing on my mind but the melody I’m singing along to. Putting on your Beats, and allowing yourself to be overcome by some of your favorite artists can have a calming effect on an otherwise stressful day. Aside from my favorite music, I added some classical music to my study routine that brought an unexpected dimension to my days so I could focus more deeply on the subject at hand. I bought an Apple music membership while I was studying for the MCAT and listened to “99 Must Have Piano Masterpieces” every day as I studied for 6-7 hours. It seemed to give my studies greater structure and allowed me to close out the outside world. For some reason, this musical habit had a de-stressing effect on my studies.
Whether you’re losing yourself in your favorite artist’s newest record or letting classical music soothe your studies, music has an awesome power to reduce stress.
Dealing with Stress: Reading
Yes, I know you’re already spending seemingly countless hours reading textbooks, but reading for pleasure can give you an escape from the harried pre-med life you live. Few things sound as good as closing my bedroom door, grabbing a great novel, and reading for a couple of hours. Maybe you don’t have much time to spend reading, but even taking 10 minutes before you get to bed and losing yourself in a spy novel or a medical thriller can help you decompress and prepare for a good night’s sleep. We put together a list of books written by practicing docs that are highly recommended reads for pre-med students, but maybe it would be a good idea to forget medicine and read something completely unrelated. Go to Amazon, and spend a few bucks on a used book. It’s amazing the effect a good novel can have on your day.
Check out these other helpful posts for getting through your toughest study days ahead: