The exciting possibilities of med school come with real challenges. You’re in an unfamiliar environment with new people, faced with difficult classes that can push your time management skills to the limit. On top of that, there's pressure to excel academically to increase your chances of being accepted into a residency program.
The immense pressure and stress medical students feel often leads to high levels of anxiety.
The good news is that you can take steps to cope with anxiety. These things will also help you deal with stress throughout your entire career as a physician.
Pay Attention to What You Eat
The nutrients you put into your body can affect your anxiety levels. Let’s be realistic, there is going to be the occasional late-night study session with pizza that can’t be avoided, but don’t let that make you throw in the towel!
Maintaining a healthy diet will help reduce your stress levels—and help you learn more effectively! If you know that you have a particularly busy time coming up, plan your food ahead of time so you’ll have one less thing to think about and you’ll be able to maintain your healthy diet effortlessly.
Avoid behaviors like stress eating, drinking, or using drugs. Drinks may help take the edge off at the end of a long day, but it is much healthier to maintain your stress with healthy habits.
Get More Sleep
This can be a tough one, especially for medical students. Sleep is often the first thing to go when you have a packed schedule. You might not be able to get a full 8 hours of sleep every night, but get as much sleep as you can.
Sleep will help your brain remember everything you learned throughout the day. Getting a good night’s sleep will help you start each day fresh and ready to learn more instead of trying to recover from last night’s lack of sleep.
Focus on Being Mindful
Mindfulness is a great tool to have in your belt when dealing with difficult emotions like anxiety. Practicing mindfulness is making an effort to pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling in the present moment, without any judgment.
For example, next time you are feeling stressed or anxious, take a beat and let yourself feel it.
What does this stress feel like in your body?
What is happening in your mind?
What happened to cause you to feel this way? Were you thinking about something or did something happen around you?
Take it a step further and write it down in a journal. Writing is a great way to help you process the steps your mind is going through.
After practicing mindfulness for a while, you’ll start to recognize your particular signs of anxiety and realize what causes you to go there.
Once you start to feel anxiety coming on, you can quickly take steps to stop it in its tracks. If you notice that certain things consistently trigger feelings of anxiety, you can take steps to avoid them or place less importance on them.
Whatever it is, paying attention to yourself and how you feel with mindfulness is the first step to coping with anxiety.
Release any extra stress and energy by creating and maintaining a regular exercise schedule. Even if you don’t feel like you have time to get a full workout in you can always make an effort to move more throughout the day.
You can take breaks to stretch, walk around the block, or take the stairs.
Bonus points if you can find a way to exercise and move that you enjoy and can look forward to. It’s a great and healthy way to blow off some steam!
Embrace a Growth Mindset
When you are in medical school, it is your job to learn and grow—not to know everything. You're still learning!
Even when you are a practicing physician, you'll learn new things and improve your skills all the time. Focus on improving your knowledge instead of beating yourself up for not being knowing everything.
A growth mindset is embracing a journey of lifelong learning and believing that your intelligence grows with new experiences and working through problems and challenges. Failures are learning opportunities that can help you down the road.
Focusing on how you can learn and grow, rather than your perceived failures, will help you cope with anxiety and be a better doctor in the long run.
Reach Out for Support
You aren't the first person who has had a difficult time in med school. Teachers have seen students go through what you’re going through year after year and can be a great resource for advice.
If your school has counseling or support available, take advantage of it! Talking to a professional can help you come up with an effective plan to cope with the anxiety that comes with med school.
Friends and family can also be a great place to find encouragement. Talking to someone outside of your med school bubble can be a great reminder that there are people who care about you regardless of your performance in school.
Coping with the anxiety that comes with medical school is no joke. Follow these steps to get through it and become a more capable doctor on the other side.
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