We live an unfortunate irony. PreMed students across the nation know the basic details of stress. In fact, we can recite all of its steps: to name a few, your heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and blood pressure increases. Your sympathetic nervous system can take over even at your desk if something has stressed you out enough. From a biological standpoint, stress tells us that we could be in danger, whether that is the danger of being chased by a bear or the danger of failing a test.
PreMeds know quite a bit about stress, which is why it is ironic that a lot of them do not handle their stress well, even after their freshman year. With medical school becoming more competitive, PreMeds are pushing their stresses to the side. They ignore them out of fear that they may be too costly to time or grades. As long as you can get the right grades, you might even be led to think your habits must be okay. The reality is you might not be managing your stress well, or not coping with it at all. PreMeds are unique in the fact that they need stress coping techniques that work well, while sacrificing as little time as possible. Hopefully these are some techniques you find easy to employ and packed with the beautiful reward of reduced stress.
Identify your stress trigger
While some of your most obvious stress is related to schoolwork, you may be surprised to find out that many stressors are not related to schoolwork at all. Many PreMeds feel the stresses of financing their medical school goals, finding school/fun balance, and performing to standards outside of the already steep ones within schoolwork. To no surprise, most medical students would admit that one of the most taxing parts of being a student are keeping up with the everyday responsibilities unrelated to studying, like laundry, paying bills, and socializing. Part of handling stress is to identify your triggers, and differentiating between what can be fixed and what should be relinquished beyond your scope of control. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to make human mistakes when necessary.
Get rid of your unhealthy habits
A lot of people who read my work know that I do not write about anything that does not resonate with me first. You and I both know we should be listening to the internal conviction that tells us to kick that caffeine addiction. Unhealthy habits might not cause your stress directly, but they still have some influence nonetheless. While your direct stressor may be an exam you are studying for, gorging on sweets and high caffeine might not help the situation. In fact, some of the first questions you will ask your patients someday may be completely unrelated to why the patient has set up an appointment in the first place. For example, doctors are becoming increasingly concerned with caffeine intake, smoking habits, exercise, and food choices as indicators of overall lifestyle quality. Although all of these make promises of short-term satisfaction, they are stress promoters in the long term. Make sure you are active enough, kind enough to your body, and utilize your time efficiently to support a heavy study schedule.
Stress prevention and coping with stress
- Refocus: Play a little bit of Mario Kart with a friend, take a stop by your school’s coffee shop, or just generally go have fun, even if it is for ten minutes. Taking a step back from your studies for a few minutes might feel forced, but it helps put your stress into perspective.
- Practice confidence: Being in the dumps because of a bad test a few days earlier can really amplify a situation that is otherwise not so stressful. Do not let the way one test went influence the ensuing days or weeks. Instead, do something every once in while that reminds you that you are pretty skilled at life.
- Keep your sleep in check: A lot of successful medical students and doctors suggest the best way to handle the stress of learning lots of information is to get a full night’s sleep regularly. Not only does it help with mood, study stamina, and overall health, but it helps your brain retain and process all that new information that you desperately want to remember for tests. You could certainly get by on less hours of sleep every now and then, but why would you do it more than sparingly?
Change your attitude
The fact of the matter is that stress is almost guaranteed in life, no matter what you do. Ever since the beginning of my college experience, not once was I promised an easy path. If there is one thing I have learned, those nights before organic tests are opportunities to prove yourself as a future doctor, and more importantly as a person. Do not be the unfortunate student that lives stress to stress without seeing the bigger and more exciting picture. You are in a better place than you realize if you have the opportunity to seize your stresses and turn them into good. I wish I would have learned sooner that if stress is part of the game, then so be it. Do what you can with the time you have, and the rest seems to work out.
Questions to ask yourself to keep your stress in check
- Has my stress had a negative long-term impact on my relationships with friends and family?
- Are my habits on dealing with stress sustainable for weeks, months, and years?
- Do I have a friend, significant other, or professional that I can be transparent with about my stress?
- Am I overreacting, maybe even underreacting, to certain stresses in my life?
Decide to dig a little deeper than the next guy when it comes to stress. It is time that PreMeds do more than just recite its steps. While living a less stressful life may not exactly get you any more points on your next test, it is pretty clear that the world of medicine could always use happier and healthier future doctors. Take the hard steps, be cool, and do not let everyday stress get you down.
Austin Greer is a 4th year student at Indiana Wesleyan University and a current Student Advisory Board Member for PreMedLife.