Staying mentally healthy while studying Medicine
Stressed out studying? Not sure how to juggle everything and stay healthy? Our Canadian ambassador and student of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin, Sara Sotirakos shares how you can prioritise self-care as a student.
Disclaimer: Although this post is directed towards medical students, the tips I share are just as relevant to any college student.
There’s that saying we have all heard about self-care, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. As a training doctor, as important as it is to learn all about saving lives, you will not be able to do so effectively if you are not in good health – and I mean mentally healthy in addition to physical health. If the mind feels bad the body will be sure to follow. As med students, we are expected to have a certain level of mental toughness and resilience. Don’t allow this expectation to push you into driving yourself to burnout. You already have a degree of toughness and resilience that got you into medical school. You will continue to learn and develop these skills as the years go on – that’s life, let it take its course. Do not put additional pressure on yourself.
A lot of us put off self-care because there’s always something more important we should be doing. This, in turn, perpetuates the stress we put on ourselves because we almost add “self-care” as another task we need to cross off our to-do lists.
So, how exactly are you supposed to take care of yourself? I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of this before. Go for a hike, go out with friends, watch Netflix, go to a spa, clean your room, whatever it may be that gives you a break. All of which is fantastic advice, and I definitely support doing so. My go-to is hiking, but when I lived in Toronto, there weren’t really many trails nearby. In Ireland, so many breathtaking hikes are a short train ride away — probably one of my favourite things about living here.
The great thing about Trinity College is that I feel supported by the school community and living in Dublin makes me feel close to those in my social circle here, as Dublin is a much smaller city than what I’m used to. The resources are here, now it’s just a matter of pushing myself out of isolation and doing what I need to in order to stay well.
You may be wondering how you are supposed to enjoy these breaks when you’ve got school stress in the back of your mind? A lot of us put off self-care because there’s always something more important we should be doing. This, in turn, perpetuates the stress we put on ourselves because we almost add “self-care” as another task we need to cross off our to-do lists and we don’t end up enjoying it. Food for thought: stop saying “I don’t have time” for self-care” and start saying, “it’s a priority”, and watch your attitude towards yourself shift. Being able to effectively take quality care of yourself essentially comes down to these two things: organisation and mindfulness.
Schedule your life entirely. When you’re going to study, when you’re going to have fun, do laundry, clean, etc. But also remember to give yourself time, don’t stress if things don’t go to schedule. If you know you’ll have an opportunity to catch up on things, there’s no need to stress. Once you get the hang of managing your time, you’re golden. There are also a ton of handy ways to make your days run more smoothly. I prep my meals for the week on Sunday, so all I need to do in the morning is grab my container of food and go. A great meal-prep app is Mealime – you choose your meals and it will generate your grocery list for you as well as step-by-step instructions on how to cook your meal. As I am rather new to the cooking world, this has been a lifesaver (pro-tip: if you are new to cooking, a meat thermometer is a GREAT thing to keep in the kitchen!). It also helps keep you healthy by keeping your portions under control.
I am also a little bit nuts when it comes to organisation — I even have clothes hangers in my closet, labelled for each day of the week. I really am that lame and choose my outfits in advance to save myself the effort of doing it in the morning, which buys me a few extra minutes of shut-eye, and just gets my day going at a quicker pace. Don’t knock it until you try it, folks. Now, when it is your “fun time” you can be in the moment, chill out, and not feel like you’re taking yourself away from something more important. Your wellness is important.
If you haven’t hopped on this trend yet, you’re going to hear it (well, read it) suggested to you again. Practising mindfulness and/or meditation will be a major key to keeping your mental state in check. There are so many apps that exist to help you with this, I use and recommend “Headspace”. Essentially through meditation/mindfulness training, you will learn how to keep your mind in the present moment. The biggest source of our anxieties and worries is the future. By worrying about the future, we find ourselves not truly living the moments we’re in now. Once you start to learn how to be present, you’ll find yourself more focused, efficient, and a heck of a lot less stressed. I warn you, you will probably not feel all that different right away, it may seem difficult, and you will have setbacks like you do with learning any new skill. The key to this is consistency. You probably won’t notice much of a change at first. Set a reminder to dedicate just a few minutes a day to this, and before you know it, you’ll look back and wonder why the heck you were such a ball of stress before. Schedule in your few minutes of mindfulness and be consistent with it.
If you haven’t already, make 2019 your year to commit to yourself. Be consistent and your life will transform. After all, you are the most important person in your life.