Stress is rife in almost every industry but, in the medical sector especially, it’s fast becoming a growing concern.
The suicide rate for doctors, for example, is estimated to be approximately two to five times that of the general population, largely due to the level of stress that the job brings with it.
But for medical students, in particular, there isn’t just the stress of the job to think about. There are also the long study hours, the challenging content and all of the other added worries that come from going to university in the first place – whether that be living away from home for the first time, learning how to budget, or forming new relationships with colleagues and peers.
Doing what you can to reduce your stress levels as a medical student is, therefore, vital to ensuring that you not only make it as a doctor but you also get through your degree with the right mindset in place.
In this article, we will be running you through some of the best techniques to do exactly that, helping you keep your stress levels at a minimum during any of the trials or tribulations you find yourself up against throughout your studies.
1. Develop & Maintain Relationships with Others
Stress can be an incredibly isolating feeling. So, having people around that you can easily reach out to is imperative to sustaining your mental health over the long term.
There is also a sense of strength in numbers within the medical sector so, where possible, try to take time out of your day to speak to your fellow medical students. That way, you will be able to vent and seek advice about any issues you’re currently facing, helping you create a coping strategy to use whenever you feel overwhelmed or stressed.
Likewise, as difficult as you might find it to open up, don’t suffer in silence. Instead, utilise your friends and family members for help whenever you need them most.
While they may not be able to completely understand what you’re going through, they will be able to put your mind at ease and step in should you need any additional support – whether that be through offering financial assistance, advice or reaching out to a counsellor on your behalf.
2. Take a Break
Life as a medical student can often feel relentless – a constant juggle between studies, work and personal life that barely gives you a moment’s peace.
However, when left to fester over time, these feelings of stress, angst and work-related burnout can soon lead to much bigger mental health issues, including insomnia, depression and a range of other anxiety-related disorders.
As such, when it all starts to get a bit too much, it is vital to recognise the need to take a step back, breathe and give yourself a break.
Whether it be through taking a vacation, heading out on a road trip or visiting one of the many stress-related treatment centres across America, resetting your batteries in this way is vital when learning how to destress. After all, you can never put a price on the value of self-care.
3. Exercise on a Regular Basis
As a medical student, you will probably know all too well already how beneficial exercising can be for your mental and physical health. So, why ignore what you know is good for you?
While you may argue that you don’t have the time to take up a new sport or hobby right now, it’s difficult to ignore the overwhelming evidence in favour of performing physical exercise; exercise is known to put you in a much better mood and allow you to destress a lot more easily.
Whether it be a long jog or a simple 20-minute stroll, exercise has also been shown to reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, while also stimulating the production of endorphins – the feel-good chemicals your brain releases to relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall sense of well-being.
4. Nail your Sleeping Pattern
Again, while you might argue that you don’t have enough time available while working as a medical student, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep can make a massive difference to your overall level of stress.
Losing sleep on a regular basis can lead to increased feelings of stress, anger, sadness and exhaustion – both mentally and physically. Therefore, always try to prioritise getting at least seven hours of sleep per night, if not more.
Plus, when that’s not possible, try to nap when you can; sleeping for short periods of either 20 minutes or 90 minutes has been shown to make a big difference to your level of cognition, while also lowering the risk of disorders like diabetes, depression and heart disease.
5. Practice Mindfulness Techniques
Over recent years, a huge amount of research has advocated the various mental health benefits that mindfulness can have on health and wellbeing.
Meditating, for example, has been shown in various studies to reduce the reactivity of the amygdala – a region of the brain typically associated with stress. So, if you often wake up feeling stressed and rife with anxiety, worrying about what today is going to throw at you, practising meditation in the morning could make a big difference to your overall outlook on life.
Likewise, breathing exercises in sports like yoga have also been shown to reduce stress, enhance your mood and help manage any of the anxious or depressive symptoms you may encounter during difficult situations.
Let’s not beat around the bush here – life as a medical student can be incredibly tough going. As such, it’s imperative to utilise tried and tested techniques to stay on top of your mental health and keep your stress levels at a minimum.
However, by using some – or all – of the techniques listed above, you can achieve exactly that, helping learn how to keep your head up high when life as a medical student starts to get you down.