9 Stress Management Tips for Medical Students
September 11, 2019
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. Stress is playing an increasing role in how well students across the country face new challenges and overcome them. More than ever, students need to be aware of what stressors they are exposing themselves to, and the effective stress management tips they can utilize to reduce the stress they’re exposed to.
What’s even worse is that medical students fear seeking help for their depression or suicidal thoughts because they believe that 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 healthcare professional’s career. People think doctors and healthcare professionals 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 one of those important statistics we don’t want to exist anymore, so we’ve created a list to help medical students reduce and cope with their stress. In addition, we’ve outlined some of the different types of stress that a medical student might face. We’ve highlighted some of the different ways that stress can affect students, common causes for student stress, and common signs that a medical student is under too much stress.
Different Types of Student Stress
There are several different types of stress that a medical student can face during their academic career. It doesn’t matter what stage a student is in in their academic career, as we are all susceptible to different stressors that might pop up at any moment. We will all deal with stress at one point or another, and it’s important to make sure that the stress we’re experiencing doesn’t become a lingering issue that we can’t shake off. Stress in plenty of scenarios can be good, but it shouldn’t become a lingering issue that severely impacts our ability to go about our routine or achieve academic success.
1. Acute Stress
The first type of stress that a medical student can face is acute stress. This is arguably the most common type of stress that a medical student will face throughout their academic career. This is the most common type of stress because it’s short in nature and is usually spurred on by something at the last minute. One example of acute stress is when you go to class and then you realize five minutes into the class that you’re about to have a pop quiz which you didn’t know about and you didn’t prepare for.
The great news about suffering from and having moments of acute stress is that they’re not a prolonged experience and they often fade quickly. There are also very few lasting effects from acute stress because everyone gets them at some point and they do not have a recurring pattern.
2. Episodic Stress
The second type of stress that a medical student can face is known as episodic stress. Episodic stress is acute stress that tends to occur in episodes or a continuous nature that seems like a pattern. For instance, episodic stress is when you’re dealing with something on a regular basis and you get stressed about the same things consistently. For students, this might be spurred on by their stress of needing to study the same time every week or some extra-curricular activities that take up a large chunk of their time that they can no longer contribute the same amount of time to.
Episodic stress can also occur when someone takes on too many tasks and becomes overwhelmed with having to complete all the tasks in a given period of time. Another case of episodic stress is when someone feels like they cannot get out of a state of worry.
3. Chronic Stress
The third type of stress that a student can face is known as chronic stress. This is the most serious of stress that a student can face over time, because it’s stress that eventually wears down the individual over time. Often times, when a student is faced with or dealing with chronic stress, they often get the sensation that the stress isn’t going away anytime soon and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Over time, this type of stress will lead to affect a student’s health and the student could develop serious medical and health issues over time if the stress isn’t eliminated.
The key problem with chronic stress is that students often get used to the feeling of stress. Students will become accustomed to this type of stress and think that it’s completely normal for them to be feeling the way they do for as long as they do. Over time, this unending stress can cause serious health issues and will need extensive medical care down the road.
Different Ways Stress Can Affect Students
There are plenty of different ways in which a student can be affected by stress. There are three key ways that a patient can experience stress and be affected by it. The first way that stress can affect students is through their behavior.
The primary way that stress affects students through behavior is the way in which the medical student respond to their stress by changing their routine behavior. Sometimes students will turn to nasty habits like staying up late, consuming energy drinks, making drastic changes in their appetite and more. In many cases, students don’t even realize that they’ve made significant behavior changes until others mention it to them or they have a realization later on.
The next way stress can affect students is through their psychological state. Unfortunately, prolonged stress and chronic stress can have drastic effects on their psychological state by making students have unnecessary fear, panic, or the constant feeling that something isn’t going to work out as they’d want.
The next way that medical students can be affected by stress is through physical nature. For instance, a student can begin to affect an increased heart rate, sweats, chronic headaches, shaking, or symptoms of feeling short-of-breath. Sometimes these symptoms can come and go over time, or they can be chronic as an individual deals with their chronic stress.
Common Causes for Student Stress
There are several common causes for stress when it comes to students. The important thing to remember about stress is that individuals all handle it in different ways. Some individuals might thrive in certain scenarios of stress, and others might buckle under the pressure. In other cases, individuals might not consider some of the causes to be stressful, and actually like the pressure they provide cause it helps them succeed or work very hard. It’s important to remember that stress can be a good thing from time to time, but too much of it will almost certainly have an effect on the individual.
The first common cause for stress in a student stems from social stress. Social stress is when you’re worried about not having enough friends, or struggling to interact with others. Sometimes it can feel like others can interact with their peers with no concern, and other days it feels like climbing a tall mountain when it comes to interacting with another person. There will be days where it can feel like you just want to stay inside and not talk to anyone, and then you might stress out about that feeling and why you don’t feel like talking to anyone else. Sometimes we can get social stress from the sensation that we’re not doing enough to be like our peers or we’re falling behind them in some way. Sometimes this is due to the social circles you hang out in, or the lack thereof.
The next common cause for stress is related to academics. Academics can cause significant stress for students as they have to worry about their education and their academic performance. Some of the leading education stressors that will elevate a student’s stress levels include their homework, semester-long projects, quizzes, and exams.
The third most common cause of student stress is performance anxiety. Often times when we head off to school, we’re so worried about our academic performance. Performance variety can occur in a number of ways. Whether it’s feeling stress from individual classes and how they affect our major, or concerns about how certain grades will affect things like eligibility for scholarships.
There are plenty of things in school that are directly correlated to a student’s academic performance. Whether it’s scholarship eligibility, major eligibility, or even extra-curricular activities that are tied to academic performance, all of this can add up over time on a student’s already heavy plate of things to worry about.
The next common cause for a student’s stress levels to rise is relationship difficulties. Getting into a relationship is a natural part of going to school, figuring out what interests you, pursuing your future career through education, and developing relationships that’ll last a lifetime. The only problem with getting into a relationship when you’re going to school is the prospect that they might not always work out. Some relationships will grow stronger over time, and other relationships will become more distant. This is the natural order of things and it can often cause some natural stress for students to deal with as they’re worried about maintaining their social circles, doing well in school, and then having to deal with relationship concerns.
The next concern for a student’s stress level is the sometimes gradual or rapid change in routines and the life transitions that students go through. When a student goes from grade school to a college, university, or medical school, their routine rapidly changes and their life goes through a gradual transition. Much of the routine changes can sometimes be attributed to going from a routine schedule to being on their own. Part of this has to do with always showing up to school and attending the same classes when you’re younger, to being forced to craft your own class schedule and be responsible for going to them and coordinating other events on your own time.
The next thing that will contribute to a student’s stress as they go through this phase is the gradual life transition they face. Students gradually experience the realization that their life was routine and they had little responsibility, to being thrust into independence and a ton of responsibilities are all on their shoulders now. This rapid change can cause students to stress out overnight and make them come to the realization that their future now rests primarily in their hands.
The next common cause for student stress is the loneliness that can creep in from time to time. Many students go from a comfortable home setting where they have loads of friends and familiar scenarios, to unfamiliar territory and social settings that they’re not accustomed to. Many students will take some time to develop friendships and establish those social circles they’re accustomed to. For those students who struggle with this or take time to establish those social circles, a natural feeling of being homesick can set in. Whether a student misses their family or the familiar routine they grew up with, feeling homesick is natural and will tend to fade over time. If it doesn’t fade, the stress can begin to mount as students increasingly become stressed about their environment and how it’s not what they want.
Another common cause of student stress can also be attributed to a student’s daily routine. Often times this kind of stress can build up over time instead of developing quite suddenly. Many of the top things that contribute to stress over time in a daily routine consist of things like a daily commute to and from school or classes or part-time work responsibilities. Students tend to worry about things like how they’re going to fit studying and classes into their routine while holding a part-time job they need to pay for school.
The next common cause for concern is any extracurricular activity that a student might partake in. It’s always a good idea for students to participate in some form of extracurricular activity like greek life in a sorority/fraternity, group, intramural sports, or some student society. These help students add to their school experience, develop relationships, and fill up their schedule, but it also adds to the potential exposure of stress that a student can face.
Common Signs You’re Under Too Much Stress
There are a few telltale signs that students can experience or display which will help indicate whether or not they’re experiencing too much stress. The first sign you might be dealing with too much stress as a student is procrastinating your work. We’ve all had a case of procrastination where we feel like we don’t have the energy or willpower to get some work done. Those rare occasions are fine, with the emphasis being that they’re rare. If you find that you’re increasingly spending countless days to get assignments or tasks done, then you’re developing a considerable cause for concern. If you increasingly create bogus reasons as to why you don’t want to do the work or push it off until a later date, you’re creating bad habits that are most likely tied to the anxiety and stress you’ve developed over time.
The next telltale sign of a student dealing with too much stress is feeling tense or having muscle aches. Often times tension and muscle aches can form over time as we don’t realize that stress can often build in our muscles over time as a direct response to our psychological state. When our minds are stressed, we often develop tension throughout our bodies as a direct response to the stress we’re experiencing. Over time, this might even develop into phantom muscle aches that we begin to experience with regularity. Even if we haven’t been through or engaged in some kind of stressful scenario that could cause muscle fatigue, we begin to feel muscle aches and tension on a regular basis.
The next sign of medical student stress is the endless feeling of being worried all the time. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re currently going through something or you have legitimate cause for concern, a feeling of worry can develop over time until you realize that you’ve had this butterfly feeling in your gut for quite some time.
Another common indication that a student is dealing with stress is the inability to concentrate. We’ve all struggled at various times when it comes to concentrating on various tasks large or small when we’re tired or stressed out about something, but a prolonged inability to concentrate on tasks is a telltale sign that the student is dealing with stress. If you find that you even lack the ability to concentrate on the most simple tasks, then it’s safe to say that you’re dealing with elevated stress levels and need to work on reducing your stress through our stress management tips for students.
The next way sign of stress in medical students is being quick to anger or having a short fuse. Students who are dealing with tremendous amounts of stress over time often have the feeling that they are running low on energy and mental capacity that they have difficulty regulating their emotions. Over time, individuals can become rather impatient and take it out on their peers. Don’t let stress affect your relationship with others because you’re struggling to keep your emotions in check. Take the time to review our stress management tips for medical students, which can help anyone reduce the stress in their life!
9 Stress Management Tips for Medical Students:
There are so many ways for individuals to reduce the stress in their lives. In fact, there are over 123 ways to reduce 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. Take a look at our list of stress management tips for medical students to help alleviate some of the pressure you’ve been feeling.
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.
( Article / Content Updated 2019 )