How to manage stress

Dealing with stress is a very important topic to discuss, because learning how to cope with pressure is very important. Setting high goals and trying to reach them can often bring a lot of stress that in long term only slows you down when it comes to achieving your goals.

Stress can negatively influence your health and cause everything from headache to more serious psychosomatic diseases such as depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, chest pain, tinnitus etc. We have a ton of information to study before exams, write two papers, most of us have some personal problems we need to deal with and everything combined can cause a lot of stress. To stay healthy, you need to make sure that you find something you like to do, that makes you happy and eases your mind. When studying medicine (or anything else where there’s a lot of information to be remembered and understood), it’s crucial that you know how to deal with stressful situations as you will probably encounter many of them in your career as a doctor.

I used to have big trouble with handling stress. When I was in high school, I would stress about getting into med school 24/7; are my grades good enough, am I studying enough etc. I would feel guilty if I took a break from studying to go for a walk because I would feel like I am not doing everything I can. This eventually turned me into a nervous wreck; I was shaking before we took any exam and because of that my mind sometimes just froze and went blank, like it would just shut down and I couldn’t remember anything even though I knew everything. I would obsess over the mistakes I’ve made that cost me higher grade which just made everything worse. I was operating on coffee all the time because I was so emotionally exhausted from all the overthinking and panicking. I was in a bad mood all the time, without energy, sometimes I just felt numbed, tired all the time, never wanting to do anything. I felt nauseous all the time and I often got severe headaches that just got worse because I got upset that I can’t study because my head hurts.

The breaking point for me, when I knew I had to do something, was when my ear problems started. This was about 4 months before the final national “maturity” exams that determined whether I would be accepted to medical school. One morning I woke up and my ear felt kind of funny, like when the pressure is not the same in your outer and middle ear, then I started hearing crackling in my ears and they were ringing all the time. It wasn’t so bad when I was in a quiet place, but whenever there were more noises around me, it was awful. I went to otorhinolaryngology clinic and the doctor said I had tinnitus, most likely as a result of stress. I decided then that I have to do something because the level of stress will only increase in med school and I had to find a way how to deal with it constructively, not letting it influence my health and still maintain high grades.

How I Started To Cope With Stress

I started by taking more time for myself, making sure that I did something that relaxes me every day. I started going on long walks daily maybe just take some time to watch TV, going for a run etc. What I noticed after a week or so was that my headaches reduced and also that I could remember the same amount of information in an hour that used to take me an hour and a half or two hours to remember. There was also an enormous improvement in my overall mood; I felt genuinely happy, more energized and motivated. I was still studying a lot but I just stopped feeling guilty every time I didn’t study. I felt so fresh and happy and that gave me the motivation to study even more and work on myself. I took my final exams completely calm, knowing that I am prepared and that I did my best. I ended up in the top of my class and with a letter that I was accepted to medical school. It took me a while, almost a year actually, to get to the point where I am now. Of course, I sometimes still feel nervous and under pressure but I use that adrenaline rush in my advantage instead of letting it influence my health.

I also reduced my coffee intake from 3-4 cups a day to one cup in the morning. This was very hard for me at first because I got a bit hooked on caffeine and got tremendous headaches when reducing my dosage. Now I drink maybe 2 or 3 cups a week because I like the taste and it sometimes help me with concentration, but I just felt like I don’t want to be addicted to anything or depend on any substance to set my mood. I also don’t smoke or drink alcohol. I sometimes drink green or black tea instead of coffee which I think is a better alternative.

And just to make something clear; I’m not saying that you should stop caring about things that cause you stress like education etc. I’m saying that you shouldn’t let the stress to influence you to the point where it’s not healthy anymore and to the point you start to lose yourself.

My education is still my first and biggest priority because I believe that knowledge is power and the one thing no one can ever take from you.

The important thing to remember is that you have to deal with stress actively and make sure that you take care of yourself first. That way you will have enough energy to do all your studying and stay motivated. You will also study more efficiently and reach your study goals faster. You should set your goals high and be ambitious and follow them with full speed, but just make sure your happiness and calmness is one of them.