Staying Sane is Important

My last blog post kind of made it seem like I am on the fast track to med-school burn out and/or mental illness. (Insert catatonic med student mumbling “must study….must study….”.) I want to reassure my readers that this is entirely not the case. I failed to mention several small but important built in preventive mechanisms that will hopefully ensure I make it through the next four years with my mind still intact. The hectic, soul crushing pace of medical school can be overwhelming–but only if you let it. Here are my top ten life-normalizing activities:

1. Exercise: I don’t have a choice, I need to get to school and my chosen mode of transportation is biking. This guarantees that I work-out at least 40 minutes every day. By far, this has been one of the best decisions I have made since starting medical school. Not only is it a great stress reliever, but it has worked wonders on my POTS (see my other posts on this topic). On the downside, I arrive to school sweaty and flushed and need to change out of my workout clothes, then spend the next 30 minutes making sure no one sits next to me so that they don’t see how I am continuing to sweat…but it’s well worth it. Aside from my commute, I try to go jogging 2-3 times a week (mainly on the weekends).

2. Stop what I am doing by 11 pm: No matter how much studying needs to happen I try to be done no later than 11 pm. There are significant diminishing returns if I try to keep studying late into the night and it usually just leads to zero retention and having to re-study– so a general waste of time. I then have one hour before I go to sleep to numb my brain with ridiculously-awesome crappy TV like Bravo.

3. Take mini study breaks: Studying for long periods at a time is equally non-productive and leads to the three S’s: sadness, sleepiness and a sudden urge to cry. I try to get up and do something else every hour or so; whether it’s making dinner, doing the laundry, taking a walk or spending 5 minutes laughing with my husband-my mini breaks keep me focused.

4. Naps: Naps are not just for kids or old people. I find it re-energizing to sleep for 30 minutes to 1 hour. There is no point in studying when your brain is too tired to remember what you are reviewing.

5. Study smart: By now we all have our study methods down. Although some are better than others. Repetition and color association are some of my favorites. Particularly when trying to memorize complicated pathways, I try to color coordinate the substrate, enzyme, regulation, which helps me recall the information later. I have also become a huge fan of making electronic flashcards (Anki on iPad). Just the act of making the cards is my study method. Then reading and re-reading my notes several times in one sitting helps to drive home the message and burn things into my brain (at least until the next exam).

6. Sense of humor: Medical school is a tough, long, tiring road–you need to find time to laugh. Luckily, my husband keeps me constantly entertained. The best part of the day is wrapping up for the night and laughing for a while before we go to sleep.

7. Attending the extracurricular stuff: Just focusing on the hard sciences is depressing and makes you feel like being a Dr. is years away and will involve painful regurgitation of facts and endless exams. Attending interest groups is a great way to put medical school in perspective. So far, I’ve attended events put on by the Ob/gyn and Emergency Department. They both have wonderful, energetic, charismatic faculty advisors that help you keep the ultimate goal in mind. Plus, there is free food, you meet new people and generally have a good time doing something that is not studying for an exam.

8. Sleep: This is a non-negotiable. I sleep 7 hours a night.

9. Continue my hobbies: Things that help me feel normal and still somewhat in control of my life include movie marathons; going out for late night frozen yogurt instead of turning in for the night; enjoying the beach; trying new food.

10. Friends: I am lucky in that I have a live-in best friend who is not in medical school and enjoys making me smile and laugh and not think about biochemistry. Medical school also puts you in very close contact with some awesome people–so make time to hang out with them–and not just as a study group.

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