Taking a break from studying to volunteer at the Multiple Sclerosis Walk
Most people are aware that med school is stressful. You’re expected to learn an enormous amount of material in a shockingly small amount of time (especially if you’re on a block schedule, like we are at Muncie). Each “block” has its own pros and cons. Well currently we’re in the Micro/Immuno block. That means a 6 week intensive course covering Microbiology and Immunology. That means 2 individually time-consuming courses combined into one 6 week block. That means a good reason to be stressed out.
But is stress a good reason to be unhappy? Absolutely not. During one of my study breaks this past week (in between contemplating backup careers and chatting it up with other Starbucks regulars…), I started thinking about how I can be thankful for this class. How can I be thankful for the stress? Why was I asking myself this question instead of studying? Because I’ve learned over and over again that a thankful heart is a happy heart. And don’t we all want to be happy? :)
So here are some reasons I came up with for myself:
1) It’s not anatomy. This doesn’t really apply to everyone, but I was not a fan of anatomy. It was our first block, I had never had an anatomy class before (psych major at your service), I was extremely homesick and just overall overwhelmed. Plus I don’t know if anyone actually enjoys smelling like formaldehyde all the time. I sure didn’t!! However, anatomy did give me some of my amazing friends (shout out to table 6!), so even that had its benefits (and what a unique opportunity to be able to learn from a cadaver). I guess that means that even the dark cloud of anatomy had its silver lining ;) Sometimes a good stress reliever is to think of something in your past that was really difficult at the time, but you got through it. And then just remember that life keeps moving on, so you might as well enjoy each day. PS you should definitely stop and click that link to listen to that song if you didn’t! :) So yeah, this current class is intense but at least it’s the last class before summer!!!
Some fun in the sun for Spring House Calls in Indy
2)It could be worse. Not just it terms of the class (like I mentioned above), but in general. I am SO blessed that my biggest personal concern this past week was a micro exam. All I had to do was walk into the hospital or even just check my Facebook newsfeed to remind myself that I am incredibly blessed to have an exam stressing me out instead of something worse. The summer before starting college, I met a friend who gave me great advice about how he keeps things in perspective. He asks himself, “Will this matter in 5 years?” I think that’s a good question to ask yourself in medical school or just in general. First of all, if it won’t matter, you probably shouldn’t be stressing out about it. Second of all, you should do things that will matter. In terms of an upcoming exam, will this one grade matter in 5 years? Not really. I mean obviously, that doesn’t mean you disregard studying. Study hard and do your best. But just keep in mind that an exam is just a test of your knowledge (or of your test-taking skills or of your skills in reading your professor’s mind and knowing what will be on the test). A grade doesn’t define you. Don’t let it. And keep in mind that you’re studying to do something that will matter in 5 years: you’re studying so you can give the best possible care to your patient. Let that motivate you when the grade discourages you.
3) Learning to deal with stress is an important part of my medical training. Stress is a part of life. Stress will certainly be a part of our medical careers. If we can’t deal with the stress of an exam, how will we deal with delivering bad news to a patient? Learning to deal with stress now is a vital part of med school. So yeah, some of the stuff we study may seem irrelevant and maybe it will be irrelevant. But the stress you feel as you study can be a teachable moment if you embrace it.
“75% of your job successes are predicted by your optimism level, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.” -Shawn Achor
Watch thisTED talk by Shawn Achor if you have a few minutes. It may be the psych nerd in me talking, but I think it’s an awesome and enlightening talk. For real, just stop reading this blog right now and watch it.
On the topic of dealing with stress, I want to give a friendly reminder that being happy is fun! One of my classmates and I were recently talking about how we deal with stress and we both had the same conclusion: laugh. Seriously, that’s one of the best stress relievers. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing in life…I hope you’re laughing. Laugh loud and laugh hard. Life is too short to be unhappy. Life is too beautiful to spend it preoccupied. Love the ones around you for as long as you possibly can. Take chances, be bold, be spontaneous, and LIVE.
One of my favorite quotes is from Jim Elliot:
“Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.”
Don’t get so caught up in studying or working or worrying or planning or whatever that you forget to enjoy your life and be happy in this moment. I know I probably sound like a broken record with this message, but I wholeheartedly believe that a vital aspect of living is actually enjoying your life.
I’m going to get on a soapbox for a minute (I’m short, so really, it will just make me the same height as most of you guys). I’m sure most people would agree that there’s too many texting and Instagram-ing and too few I’m-laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying-and-my-stomach-hurts moments happening in our world. We need less of the former and more of the latter. Let’s make joy the norm, not the rare exception. Because happy people make other people happier too. Let’s stop staring at our notes/phones/computers and start looking at each other. Start actually talking and laughing together. Let’s actually LOL instead of just typing it. And don’t feel guilty when you take a break. Those breaks will keep you sane. Those breaks remind you that you’re human and not some med school robot. So take breaks, pay attention to others, workout, have fun, serve in some way, and enjoy your life.
I’m stepping off the soapbox now, but let me encourage you (med student or not) to start forcing yourself to be thankful. Whenever you feel stressed, stop yourself for a minute and come up with a reason to be thankful. Pretty soon, that thankful response will become natural and I guarantee you will be more optimistic and happier (but maybe that’s the optimist in me talking…).
Train yourself to choose joy. See the humor in every situation. Be able to laugh at yourself.
If you have enough awkward/embarrassing moments, you will become a pro at laughing at yourself (not like I’m speaking from personal experience or anything). Make yourself laugh, be with others that make you laugh, watch a funny video to make you laugh so hard you cry (like this one).
So regardless of your test score–good or bad–it doesn’t define you. No matter what’s happening in your life, be thankful for the blessings. Laugh it out and laugh out loud.
If you’re uncertain about your laughing style, or interested in developing a new one, this video is for you: Tripp and Tyler Laugh. Caution: I was laughing like a goofball in Starbucks as I watched it…and as people gave me strange looks…so be prepared.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
I’m an MS4 based at the Indy campus, though I spent MS1/2 at the Muncie campus. I started med school with a strong interest in international missions, pediatrics, education, and whole person care. I’m still interested in all those things, except I re...