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Dealing With Premed Stress

Created July 13, 2017 by AAMC Staff

With another busy semester behind you, you might be using your summer to work or volunteer, prepare for the MCAT exam, or work on your medical school applications. But summer is also a good opportunity to catch your breath and practice a little self-care. Being a premed is stressful, but there are healthy habits you can start practicing now that will help you manage stress next semester, and later when you’re in medical school.

1. Cook at home. It’s tempting to save time by always buying meals on the go, but cooking for yourself can actually be a stress relieving activity. And it’s often the healthier choice. Plus, it will save you money! Try listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook while you cook, or turn it into a social activity by cooking with your roommate or significant other.

2. Compare less. Comparing your grades, scores, and activities to others can be toxic. Everyone’s path to medical school is different, and medical schools want to see what your passions are and what drives you, not that you’ve checked every box. What makes you different from your peers can be what makes you a great applicant and future doctor. If you’re not sure what your personal motivations or passions are, spend some time journaling (also a great stress reducer – see number 5!) about your goals and interests. It’s okay if they are not related to medicine.

3. Find a physical activity you love. It’s important to do something active to relieve stress and stay healthy, so if you know you’ll never get the motivation to go to the gym, try other things you might enjoy. It can be adventurous like rock climbing, kayaking, or skiing, but it can also be as simple as going for a bike ride or a walk with a friend.

4. Try meditating. To get your mind off the next thing on your to-do list, try practicing meditation. There are lots of different forms of meditation, and even spending just a few minutes a day in silence can be a great way to clear your mind. There are free apps and online videos that can help you get started.

5. Write it down. Try taking a few minutes to note everything that’s on your mind, whether it’s related to school or not. What you write doesn’t have to be complete sentences or even words—some people enjoy doodling or sketching when they’re stressed. It can be a relief just to get everything out of your head and see what you’re thinking about. Then as a next step, you can organize your thoughts into things you can take action on now, and things you can focus on later. This can give you some perspective and help you prioritize next steps.

6. Talk about it. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone, whether it’s a friend, relative, mentor, or counselor. This is especially true if you find yourself relying on alcohol or other unhealthy stress management methods. Everyone struggles sometimes, and it’s good to have a support network of people who can help you talk through issues and encourage you through rough times.

7. Sleep and drink water. Getting enough sleep and staying hydrated can help you study and retain information more effectively. Prioritizing sleep isn’t always easy, but having a designated bedtime may push you to manage your time more productively, and help you to create and stick to a realistic schedule.

Learning to take care of yourself now is an important step to becoming a good physician. You will do a better job of taking care of others if you’re taking care of yourself. It’s always easier to set new habits when you aren’t in the most stressful season, so carve out some time this summer to do what’s best for you.

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