Being a medical student is one of the most anxious times of your life, and not without good reason. Medical school is stressful, from the rigor of the material to the constant testing to the frustrations of grades to residency applications. Unfortunately, these things are inherent to medical school and out of your control, and having anxiety in this situation is understandably very normal. However, much can be done for you to combat this anxiety as a medical student.
1. Recognize your triggers.
Before you can do anything about your anxiety, realize what it is making you anxious. Is it tests? Is it presenting patients? Is it writing your personal statement? If you find out exactly what it is that makes you anxious, you can take steps to anticipate the anxiety, and this alone can actually help you alleviate your symptoms, so it doesn’t take you by surprise. It also helps because knowing what makes you anxious can help you take steps to prevent or lessen the burden of these specific triggers.
2. Get lots of sleep.
This is easier said than done in medical school, but sleep has been regularly been linked to mood and anxiety symptoms. Medical students are notorious for both not sleeping as well as for mood and anxiety symptoms. Notice a pattern?
Getting the exercise you need can help with mood and anxiety. The endorphin-releasing effects of exercise are well-documented, not voodoo, and can dramatically influence your anxiety and subsequent ability to function in the classroom and in the wards. Prioritizing fifteen to thirty minutes of exercise a day should be within the realm of possibility for a medical student despite the most rigorous of schedules.
4. Do what you enjoy.
The relationship between anxiety and depression is clear, and many students who find themselves anxious may actually have concomitant depressive symptoms. To address the two simultaneously, get up, forget about the books, and do what you enjoy, whether that’s hanging out with friends, seeing family, or picking up a new hobby. You’d be surprised by how invigorating doing something fun can be and its ability to actually improve your performance as a medical student.
5. Recognize when things are getting out of hand and get help.
Too often, students will just say to themselves “this is just medical school and I can’t do anything about it.” Yes, this is true. Yes, things do get better after medical school (and residency). Yes, you will be able to get through it. But that is no reason not to treat yourself with compassion and get the help that you need it. Just because you feel anxious does not imply that you shouldn’t be allowed to feel better. Get help from a professional as soon as you notice that you don’t quite feel like yourself. It can literally only help you.