5 ways to save mental energy

It’s no secret that medical school can be draining. Although it can be draining in many ways – physically, emotionally, spiritually – the largest drain tends to be mentally, as learning the necessary information takes a lot of brainpower. There isn’t much that can be done about this directly, but there are some indirect ways to save mental energy in order to maximize the amount available to study. Here are five ideas:
1. Routine
One of the best things that has worked for me is eliminating extraneous planning day to day by establishing simple routines; some daily, some weekly, and some monthly. For my daily routine, this includes: having a regular bedtime and rising time, packing my lunch the night before I need it, and checking my schedule for the next day the night before. All of these save me from worrying or rushing in the morning, since my mornings are pretty consistent. On a weekly basis, I have a routine, too: I do laundry every Monday, grocery shopping every Tuesday, and go out with friends every Friday. If you live with a spouse/roommate(s), you can take turns with these things to help even more. For monthly routines, I’ve set up every bill that allows it to auto-pay on the due date. Other than checking up on my bank account regularly, I don’t spend much time worrying if it’s time to pay the rent, internet, credit card, or phone bills. This saves quite a bit of mental energy each day. My advice: Establish a daily, weekly, monthly routine. Consistency is key to conserving precious brainpower.
2. Plan ahead
This is related to having a routine. Look at your academic calendar ahead of time. Note the important dates, and determine the best study schedule leading up to big tests. Then, schedule your social events – going out with friends, date nights, weekend trip to see family, etc. Those things are important, and you should not give them up; however, you should plan them well in advance. This will save you stress later of trying to make bad dates and times work to take your spouse out to dinner, go home to see your family, or take a weekend vacation. Additionally, communicate with friends and family ahead of time about your schedule. If they’ve ever heard of medical school they probably know it is busy, but it’s better for you to make it clear to them up front. They will also feel better knowing that you are planning to see them when you can. Doing this early on will save you the added stress of arguments, explanatory phone calls, etc.
3. Stay organized
There’s not much to say about this one, other than it really does help. Don’t waste valuable time and energy searching for your keys every morning, wondering where you left your textbook, or trying to remember all the important dates without writing them down. There are some great organizational tools available online, many of which come in app form – if you need help with this, take advantage of these! A simple place to start is the use of a digital calendar (on a smartphone or computer) in which you can easily keep track of important dates, when assignments are due, etc. If you’ve never used one before, medical school would be a great place to start.
4. Take breaks
Does having a routine mean you cannot be spontaneous? Of course not! Spontaneity can do a lot for recharging me and giving me a second wind. I do try to limit how often I take breaks, and control when I take them, but the breaks are vital to learning. Let your brain rest. Try not to take study breaks that increase your stress, as this will not help your mental workload at all; instead, anything that needs done that you know will be difficult or stressful, plan ahead and plan around it. The general breaks that you take from studying should be light and easy. Do something non-stressful: exercise, sit on the porch, cook dinner…then return to your studies feeling rested and ready to go.
5. Don’t stress!
Easier said than done, I know. But seriously, recognize that everyone in medical school is in the same situation. Despite what you may feel, it is unlikely that you are any further behind (or ahead) than anyone else. As long as you are doing your best and working in a way that suits your learning style, there’s not much you can do. You will pass: thousands of medical students do, every year. Stressing out and worrying about not studying enough, not being good enough, etc. will only detract from your ability to learn. Maybe it sounds cliché, but do your best and don’t stress too much. You will make it!
Brent Schnipke is a first year medical student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Beavercreek, OH. He is a recent graduate of Mount Vernon Nazarene University with a degree in Biology. His interests include medical education, writing, medical humanities, and bioethics. Brent is also active on social media and can be reached on Twitter @brentschnipke.