9 Stress Management Tips for Medical Students
February 9, 2016
Stress management activities and techniques are anti-depression strategies our super bright medical students haven’t completely figured out yet and it’s getting serious.
Depression and suicides are increasing among medical students. It has become such a problem that the Missouri House just passed a bill that reviews medical education and studies suicide and depression among medical students, to better battle mental disease in our future doctors.
What’s even worse is that medical students fear seeking help for their depression or suicidal thoughts because it could hurt their future. They are in a tough and unexpected situation where they have to swallow and bear their pain because depression carries with it a stigma that could hurt a doctor’s career. People think doctors who have mental health issues are bad care providers or that they are unable to care for others if they can’t care for their own health. This is not always the case because most healthcare providers usually put other people’s best interests before their own.
More than 400 doctors commit suicide every year. This is a statistic we don’t want to exist anymore, so we’ve created a list to help medical students reduce and cope with their stress. Ultimately, there is a ton of stress in this field, but there are tactics you can use to prepare yourself for impending stress and fight against it.
9 Stress Management Tips for Medical Students:
1. Find a Mentor
One of the best stress management tactics is to find a mentor. Everyone needs an experienced person to show them the best way. A good mentor can show you the ropes and prepare you for bumps in the road. Having a good mentor can relieve some stress because they have been in your shoes and have successfully made it to the other side. Great mentors are also classmates. If you do pick a classmate, make sure they are a little older and have some experience under their belt so it’s not a case of the blind leading the blind.
If you have a problem with school, relationships, or your well-being, you can ask them for help. It’s good to have a mentor who is close to your age, sometimes, because they can become a friend who can support you and relate to you on a personal level. It’s important to have a strong support system, as you will learn coming up.
It is also good to shadow and build a mentor relationship with a physician who is older and has much more experience. They can teach you the professional ropes and help you avoid mistakes they made. Also, a physician mentor can help you with your problems and help you maintain sanity through medical school. They might even be able to get you a job later down the road.
This is a cliché tip for every self-improvement and stress management guide, but it’s one that really does work. Exercise is a great stress reliever and combats depression better than most other techniques– especially if you don’t want to take meds. It is not only a release for your mind but works out pent-up energy and aggression.
It’s good to adopt a healthy lifestyle if you are super busy, because once it’s habit, you will always do it. It’s harder to start something after you are already too busy. Vigorous exercise, like running or weight lifting, is something that will always benefit you. You can use it as a reset button for your life; when you get stressed, a workout can put everything back to zero; you just go to the gym or step outside and reset and refocus.
Also, you will need to do something to take a break from studying– it might as well be something healthy and beneficial. Go punch a heavy bag, lift something super heavy, or just run until you can’t run anymore. You’ll feel great afterward and will probably welcome back your study chair.
3. Attend a Pass/Fail School
If you can, go to a pass/fail medical school. There are top medical schools like Yale and Stanford that are strictly pass/fail. This means there is no grading/ranking system to pit you against other students. Many people find this environment nurturing of collaboration and engagement and great for reducing stress. Students like it because they don’t feel the added pressure of having to compete with their peers for the top grades and it’s a lot less cut-throat.
It really helps to lessen the pressures when you don’t have to worry about making As or Cs, but just passing or failing. It also helps you feel better because you understand your school trusts that you are smart enough to become a doctor and that you don’t need grades to set you apart as a one. What better stress management technique than to go to a school that doesn’t want to add any more pressure to an already stressful situation.
4. Take it Slow
Slow and steady wins the race. This idiom is especially true for medical school. If you want to make it through with your sanity, just breathe and take it slow. You have to realize that you picked a very stressful field, and the schooling it takes for the field is as equally stressful and demanding. Pace yourself and don’t procrastinate. The worst thing you can do is wait to do everything until the last minute and then speed through and cram your studying into a few hours.
If you slowly go through your work and study in small increments, then you will do fine when it comes test time. Also, you have to live your life. Just because you’re in medical school doesn’t mean you should put off living. If you slowly study and build upon everything instead of cramming, it will allow you to have a nice life balance where you can spend time exercising, doing a simple hobby, or going out with friends.
It’s a journey, not a race. Either way, it is going to take you a very long time to make it through, so you might as well enjoy it.
5. Learn to Love Studying
You will study a lot. You will probably spend all your time studying, so you better learn to love this stress management technique. Some students treat studying as a form of therapy as it allows them to do it for long hours and enjoy it. Look at is as an opportunity to slow down, read, and learn at your pace. When you have to study, you don’t have to do anything else. It can become a meditative experience where you learn to release your mind of stress and whatever else you have going on in your life.
Plus, if you take the slow and steady approach, it will decrease stress because you will span your studies out over a period of time instead of leaving everything until the last moment. Most of a student’s stress comes from procrastinating and cramming. Procrastination leads to a lack of confidence and most people don’t store any of the information because they never learned it to begin with. If you treat studying as a hobby and take the process slow, over time, it will increase your knowledge retention, give you peace of mind, and increase your overall time for other things.
6. Vent But Don’t Complain
It’s important to vent. Venting is healthy if done right. It allows you to let out your frustrations and relieve stress by talking about all the things that are worrying you and things that you hate. It’s like constructive criticism– there is a fine line before it isn’t constructive anymore. When you vent, only do it to a person who you trust. It’s not good to openly vent in front of many people because it can bring the atmosphere down.
Vent to someone who can turn bad things into positives and see the good things about what you do. If you are a negative person and you vent to another negative person, you both will feed off of each other and it will just be a big negative tornado. But if you find someone who can bring out the positives, it will help you see silver linings in all the bad.
7. Take a Break
Everyone needs a break. Especially overworked and overstressed medical students. Take a weekend to go out-of-town or go to the mountains. Being outdoors is shown to improve overall mental health and is a good break from city life and buildings. If you can’t escape for a weekend, try to take small breaks every day. Get up from your desk or couch to step outside and take deep breaths. Small breaks throughout your day will increase focus, positivity, and productivity.
It’s not good to press through a bunch of work or studies without setting aside a little time to clear your mind and practice some good ol’ stress management. You could use this break to get your exercise in. Not only will you better your health, but your sanity will improve as well.
8. Have a Good Support System
We all need someone to lean on. If you’re stressed, depressed, or suicidal, it’s very important that you have at least one good person you can confide in and rely on for support. Sometimes we can’t do everything and it’s good to have someone to pick up a bit of our slack. I’m sure your mom would love to do your laundry or make you some food. If you live away from your parents, then ask a friend to help out.
If you really need the help, a real friend will be willing no matter what. Nobody can go it alone, so if you are lacking in this department, then put down the books and go meet some friends. A study shows that people with friends live 50% longer over a time than people without. It’s always good to have a friend you can grab a beer with and vent about your problems.
9. Remember Why You’re in Medical School
Last, but certainly not least, is to remember why you are in medical school. You want to help people. You obviously love people and want to impact in lives, so let that keep you strong. Becoming a doctor is a super noble duty and a special calling. Don’t be discouraged because you get a little overwhelmed sometimes– everyone does. Just stay the course and you reap rewards in the end. All the hard work will be worth it when you see the lives you touch and feel the difference you make. Keep your head up. You go through hell so others can get better. You should feel great about what you do.
Stress management is a process. People don’t just learn these things overnight and, like medical school, these tips take some time to master. Please remember that if you need help, get help. One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself; you have to stay on top of your game to get good grades and be a great doctor. All of the things that seem like they are huge problems are only temporary. Everybody needs help sometimes, so if all the things listed above don’t work, then reach out to someone and don’t be afraid of what people may think— they aren’t the ones trying to make it through medical school.