Medical school leads to a rewarding career caring for others. However, students are typically faced with a rigorous curriculum that could negatively affect their mental health.
Research has shown that 27.9% of medical students experience burnout at some point throughout their studies, with up to 53.8% of students declaring emotional exhaustion and 71.1% reporting high-stress levels from personal achievement.
The medical field needs excellent doctors to carry the torch regarding expertise and showing patients immense empathy. To ensure your journey through medical school prepares you for a successful career, here are six ways to care for your mental health and prevent burnout.
1. Prepare Your Academic Calendar
Academic preparedness is a surefire way to take care of yourself during medical school. Reviewing the courses you need to take each semester well in advance helps with this. A few things to keep in mind when creating your schedule include:
- Allowing yourself breaks between lectures to get something to eat, review notes and prepare for the next course
- Having an idea as to how frequently you’ll be issued exams
- When you’ll need to bring medical equipment with you, such as a lab coat
- Which days are best to bring lunch from home
- When you’ll have clinical rotations
An advisor can help you structure your curriculum and explain the requirements for graduation along the way. Familiarizing yourself with your specific program will allow you to anticipate high-volume courseloads and master your semesters more efficiently.
2. Use A Planner
In medical school, time management and organization are critical to reducing stress levels and ensuring coursework and clinical rotations are completed on time. That’s why investing in a planner can help you keep track of your tasks, goals and daily structure. It can also help to improve your concentration and productivity.
Studies have shown that 64.8% of students who practice time management have better academic performance, with 92.3% agreeing that it helps them meet specific deadlines.
Medical students typically deal with a greater number of challenging courses and demands than they’ve likely ever experienced. Keeping track of where and when they need to be someplace and when assignments are due will help them stay the course.
There are many options for online planners and calendars that are easily accessible with a smartphone or tablet. For other students, a calendar notebook may be their preferred option.
3. Join A Study Group
There are several benefits of joining a study group, many of which can help ease some of the stress you might feel throughout medical school.
Students who join study groups can keep up with their lectures, ask questions and seek guidance from their peers on topics they may find difficult to understand. It’s a great way to compare notes, learn new retention skills and communicate your ideas and comprehension with others.
Study groups can help you through some of the tougher subjects, such as anatomy, surgery or pathology, while enabling members to share learning resources and insights that could be of assistance.
They also provide an opportunity to give and receive emotional support from other medical students in your program while helping you stay motivated to not give up on your studies.
4. Live A Healthy Lifestyle
Courses and clinical rotations will occupy much of your time in your program. However, it’s important to remember to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Set aside time for meal planning and fitness, even if it’s a simple walk before or after your day. Mindfulness techniques and yoga are also beneficial for stress relief, helping you clarify your mind and regain focus. In fact, people who reported practicing mindfulness had significantly lower stress levels and higher productivity in one study.
Stress activates cortisol in the brain, also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol can lead to sleep problems, weight gain, inflammation and higher blood pressure. Eating a balanced, healthy diet can reduce cortisol, such as:
- Foods rich in vitamin B, including eggs, lean protein and fortified cereal
- Omega-3 foods, such as salmon, walnuts, avocado and flax seeds
- Magnesium-rich foods, such as dark chocolate, broccoli, bananas and spinach
- Food high in protein, such as chicken, eggs, fish, peanuts and lentils
Of course, you’ll want to avoid sugary and caffeinated foods and beverages when you’re trying to regulate your stress levels. Try to stay away from too many alcoholic drinks, soda and pastries, as well.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential throughout medical school. According to the American Psychological Association, a person should get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Interestingly enough, those who report fewer sleeping hours than the recommendation tend to feel more stressed.
Sleep deprivation can significantly impact your academic performance and stress levels as you work your way through medical school. It can also lead to other severe conditions, such as depression, obesity, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and lower immunity.
Give yourself plenty of time to rest at night. Set a nightly bedtime for yourself, aiming for the recommended hours of sleep and stick to it as much as possible. You might help yourself get enough sleep by not drinking caffeinated beverages at night, eating dinner earlier and unplugging your devices 30 minutes before you lay down.
6. Seek Counseling
Perhaps most important throughout your medical school journey is seeking some form of counseling when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Share how you’re doing with a trusted family member or friend. You might also speak with your peers about your stress and frustrations. Likely, many fellow medical students will feel similarly to you.
If you think you would benefit from professional counseling, universities and medical school programs usually have trained counselors and psychologists on campus. Typically, these services are free or very inexpensive and always confidential.
Your academic advisor or student advocate can assist you in obtaining counseling services through the school if necessary.
Take Care Of Yourself So You Can Care For Others
Medical schools give you the academic prowess and skills necessary for caring for others. However, before you can care for patients, you must learn to care for yourself. Remember that you will probably feel high stress in the field, as well. Discovering the best ways to tend to your mental health in school can make dealing with stressful situations easier in the future.