Stress Management

Everyone feels stressed and anxious at times. Some stress can be good--when we feel challenged and needed, we feel more alive. And, nothing is better than overcoming an obstacle or pushing yourself to new heights. But, stress can be overwhelming, too.

If stress and anxiety start to affect your life, you might want to talk to someone about it. Talk to a friend, family, or come see Student Services for help. People care.

Here’s a great collection of stress management articles for further reading: "Stress Management" by John M. Grohol, Psy.D

On this page:

  • Basic Tips
  • Write about It!
  • Positive Self-Talk
  • Relaxation
  • Grit
  • References

Some Basic Tips for Stress Management:

  • Celebrate your victories and wins, no matter how small. This will help you see your efforts as productive and worthwhile.
  • Keep a schedule and routine so you will feel natural going about your daily activities.
  • Be mindful about stressors. Take time to reflect on what stresses you out, and why it affects you. Brainstorm ways to mitigate the stressor. For example, does it stress you out to do laundry three times a week? Buy more clothes so you only have one laundry day, or ask for laundry help from friends or family.
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish. What is most important? What can be eliminated or delegated?
  • Be as healthy as possible. Get sleep, exercise, and mostly eat foods that fuel you.
  • Give yourself a chance to relax.

Write about It!

Research shows that just writing about your worries, anxieties, and fears for an exam can help alleviate severe test anxiety (Ramirez & Beilock, 2011). Freewrite (just write whatever comes to mind on the topic) for ten minutes. Here are some questions to help you start writing:

  • Why are you worried?
  • What specific fear do you have about this test?
  • Why does that matter?
  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • What is the best that could happen?
  • What is one thing you’ve done well to prepare?

Positive Self-talk

Be nice to yourself while studying. The way you frame your self-talk can be a big influence on your success. If you spend your time telling yourself you can’t do something, you probably never will. However, if you frame everything as a positive, you’ll start to see yourself persevering, overcoming, and winning. When you tell yourself you will pass, and then work toward that end, it will happen. This video, "Self-Talk Creates Reality," offers insight into how to transform your self-talk and stay positive. 

Relaxation

Finding time to relax is one the keys to stress management. Working non-stop takes a physical and mental toll that only gets harder to recover from. Letting yourself stop and reset, if only for a few minutes here and there, will help you be more calm overall. You are a human, and humans need sleep and laughter and rest.

Here’s some things you can realistically fit into your schedule to help you relax:

Find a Hobby

Hobbies in medical school? Yes. You’ll have to find a hobby that fits in with your schedule, though. Be intentional about the kind of hobby you take on. For example, competitive skateboarding might take up too much time, but longboarding in the parking lot for a half hour a day is realistic. Hitting balls in a batting cage would be better than joining a softball team.

Tip: since you’ll be doing so much book and brain work, find a hobby that moves your body: running, fishing, squash, gardening, etc. Find that brain/ body balance for maximum effectiveness.  

Deep Breathing

When you’re stressed, your sympathetic nervous system takes over and causes tension, sweating, and an increased heart rate. Deep breathing, if only for a few minutes a day, can actually help heal the body from issues that arise from stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (Rakal, 2016).

An abdominal breathing technique can be found here: Learning Deep Breathing by David Rakal

General Meditation

Meditation is about sharpening focus. It is the intentional act of focusing solely on one thing for an extended period of time. This helps train the body to block out unwanted thoughts or stressors.

There are a lot of apps, videos, and websites devoted to guided and free meditation. You can find advice everywhere. One of the most convenient ways to access this information is right on your phone. A meditation app can be an easy, portable, anytime meditation primer.

  • One app to consider is "Insight Timer." It is an app that has guides and free meditations which are customizable with different sounds (or none at all) and timers for as little as one minute.  

Some general meditation advice:

  • Make time every day to meditate. Get into a routine.
  • Start small. Meditate for a few minutes a day at first and work your way up to longer times.
  • Completely inhale and completely exhale each breath.
  • Remember to focus on a single thing. That might include:
    • The feeling when you switch between breathing in and out.
    • The way the air feels in your mouth or nose as you inhale or exhale.
    • The air around you: temperature, smell, or movement.
    • Sounds: cars on the road, a fan, or the music you play during your meditation.
    • A single visual element like a tree branch, a candle, or a point in the distance, etc.
  • Try to clear out your mind and concentrate solely on your focus.
  • Be comfortable, but planted. If you’re in a chair, keep your feet flat on the floor and your hands in your lap. If sitting on the floor or lying down, find a position that is comfortable and stay still. Keep your body relaxed, and your mind will follow.

Grit

In her TED talk, Angela Duckworth, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, sums up her research into success by saying that grit is the single biggest indicator of success for long term goals. 

 

Grit can be defined as a person’s ability to persist to achieve goals over time (Duckworth, AL. et. al., 2007). To be successful, you have to work hard everyday toward your goals in a consistent, intentional way. Duckworth discusses this idea in her video, “What is Grit?”

Grit is also about being resilient in the face of stress and setbacks, and seeing failure as a learning opportunity.  A person with grit is realistic about their ability, and they think in terms of constant improvement. They understand that growth and change are possible with hard work. They see their process and journey as the means by which they achieve their goal, and they value the experience rather than simply trying to get through it.

Here are a few ways to add more grit to your life:

  • Set regular, consistent goals for daily work. Clearly define what you want and what steps are necessary to achieve them. Then, follow through on your plan.
  • Be consistent in your efforts. Binge working will get things done, but daily positive habits will accomplish much more over time.
  • Celebrate small successes. Each success is a step forward toward your goal.
  • Use failure as an opportunity for self-reflection and evaluation. Seek to understand why you failed, and work towards overcoming the challenges that led to failure.
  • Accept yourself as a work in progress who can be better. Understand that you can grow and learn. Seek to do better each day.

References

Duckworth A.L, Peterson C, Matthews MD, et al. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. J Pers Soc Psychol. 92(6):1087–1101.

Duckworth, A. L. (2013). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Retrieved June 13, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Duckworth, A. L. (2013, October 16). What is grit? Retrieved May 22, 2018, from https://youtu.be/Rkoe1e2KZJs

Rakal, D. (2016). Learning Deep Breathing. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/learning-deep-breathing/ 

Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S.L. (2011). Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom. Science 331. Retrieved from:  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/331/6014/211

Self-Talk Creates Reality. (2018, February 8). Retrieved May 15, 2018, from https://youtu.be/A0QQT6Rnwic