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The pursuit of a healthy work/life balance in medical school can seem like an impossible goal. Many of us are torn between juggling heavy workloads, academic studies, managing relationship/family responsibilities, and squeezing in outside interests. More than one in four Americans describe themselves as “super stressed.” That’s not balanced—or healthy.

We might rush to “get it all done” and it’s easy to forget that as our stress levels spike, our productivity plummets and sense of empathy depletes. Stress can impede our concentration, make us irritable or depressed, and harm our personal and professional actions. To help others, we first have to help ourselves. As the old adage states, “The drowning man can save no one.”

Over time, stress weakens our immune systems, and makes us susceptible to a variety of ailments and disease. Reports indicate that over 400 physicians a year commit suicide. Why?

While we all need a certain amount of stress to help us perform at our best, the key to managing stress lies in BALANCE. Achieving a healthy work/life balance IS an attainable goal, but you have to make an effort and want it. When people are balanced and happy, they can be more productive, are sick less frequently, and are more efficient and effective. 

Here are a few simple tips, strategies, and techniques that we can do to win back the balance in our lives by BUILDING RESILIENCE.

SET MANAGEABLE GOALS TODAY. Being able to meet priorities helps us feel a sense of accomplishment and control. The latest research shows that the more control we have over our work, the less stressed we get. So be realistic about workloads and deadlines. Make a “to do” list today, and take care of important tasks first and eliminate unessential ones. Ask for help when necessary.

COOL AIR IN, WARM AIR OUT. With your eyes closed, shift attention to the tip of your nose. As you breathe in, become aware of the air coming into your nostrils. As you breathe out, be aware of the sensation of the air passing back out. Notice that the air coming in tends to be cooler and the air breathed out tends to be warmer. Be aware of cool air in…and warm air out. Focusing on a physiological activity (air in and out) can help focus your mind and relax your body. If you lose focus, bring your index finger up and tap the tip of your nose. Breathe again.

REVIEW DAILY. Take the time to integrate new material with what is already known.

BANANA. A banana is a good source of tyrosine. Tyrosine is the amino acid neurons turn into norepinephrine and dopamine. Norepinephrine and dopamine are excitatory neurotransmitters that are important in motivation, alertness, concentration, and memory.

Up next… Helping high-performing individuals power through.

turn your 230 into a 260 on the USMLE in 24 hours
Karen Acquilano

Karen Acquilano

Karen Acquilano has been a professional educator for 27 years as teacher, counselor, and researcher specializing in well-being and learning skills. She has been working the last seven years specifically with medical students and physicians on the challenges they face. She strives to encourage much needed attention to the mental and emotional well-being of those who are devoting their lives to caring for others. Karen is a practitioner of neuro-meditation, aroma therapy, and Tai Chi. Her approach to helping others is to encourage self-awareness, offer options and suggestions, and allow others to discover their own styles and ways of achieving well-being and balance in their lives and in their work for better focus, memory, resilience, wisdom, and relationships.
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