Healthy Stress Management Options for Medical Students

MedEd University | Healthy Stress Management Options for Medical Students

Alternatives to Self-Medicating

Pursuing a career in medicine is one of the most mentally challenging endeavors a young person can attempt.  The path, though rewarding, is a long, arduous journey.  The increased workload and influx of information can trigger more stress and anxiety than in other fields of study. Adherence to demanding schedules, rigorous exams, and sleep deprivation put medical students at increased risk for health issues, relationship problems, depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Medical students are three times as vulnerable to mental health issues as the average college student.  They also present a higher rate of substance abuse due to self-medicating for anxiety, stress, and pain, or for performance enhancement.  Research has found that one in four college students abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, including reducing stress and to increase performance, due to greater accessibility to these substances by medical students.

There are many successful stress management alternatives that can be utilized during medical school that will not put you at risk for substance abuse or addiction.

Stress is Natural

Everyone goes through stressful situations almost daily.  Although we cannot delete stress from medical school completely, we can find healthy ways to cope with and categorize stress to be able to handle it successfully.  It is important to remember you are not alone, and to take  physical symptoms of stress seriously to avoid long-term health issues. these activities with some of the more active learning strategies below.

Nutrition and Exercise

It is always easier to fall into unhealthy eating habits when you have a heavy workload and time constraints, but making a plan for proper nutrition and exercise will help your body physically deal with stress.  Avoid unhealthy foods by planning and preparing quick, but healthy options to pack and bring with you.  Make time for short bursts of exercise to get your heart pumping and endorphins flowing. Find an activity you enjoy- walking, running, cycling, or team sports.  Daily exercise will improve mood, reduce stress, keep you motivated, and manage anger and frustration.  It will even contribute to a more restful night’s sleep.

Your Mental Game

Remember that medical school is important, but so is your mental and emotional well-being. Make time for yourself, even if only for short periods, by reading books, practicing meditation, relaxation, or yoga.  Keep your hobbies.  They are great stress relievers and not a waste of time.

Take breaks.  Your busy medical school schedule will always be looming, but you should pull away once in a while to maintain your sanity.  When making your schedule, allow time for short breaks.  Take a walk, grab a healthy snack, or take a nap.  Your brain needs the opportunity to relax to continue to be effective.

Listening to classical music, or any music that personally soothes you, can have a calming effect while studying or enjoying down time.  Create playlists for studying, exercising, or lounging.

Avoid medical student hypochondria.  Many medical students bring undue stress upon themselves by worrying if they have symptoms of the many diseases and ailments that they are studying.  If you truly believe something is wrong, get yourself checked out right away to rule out health problems and reduce anxiety.

Journaling is another amazing stress reliever.  Putting your thoughts on paper and categorizing what issues are important and how they can be handled will take pressure off of you mentally.

Get organized by straightening out your living, and studying areas.  By organizing and cleaning up your living space, you can reduce the stress and negativity that accompany clutter. When it comes to organizing and scheduling school and your studies, outline a solid routine, look to learning methods like visual aids and set yourself up for strong study habits.

Support Systems are Crucial

One way to maintain balance while in medical school is to remember to keep relationships with family and friends.  They will be the ones to tether you to the outside world.  They can remind you why you took this journey, and when the going gets tough, they will remind you how driven you are and push you to be successful.

Never isolate yourself. Find compatible study partners to meet for study breaks and meals.  And don’t forget to have fun!  Make time for movies, dinner, or drinks with friends.

Many schools offer stress reduction workshops, seminars, or yoga classes, so take advantage of these opportunities on campus or seek them out in your community.  If you need help, reach out to someone.

Remember that you can and will succeed!  Be aggressive about stress management when you first begin medical school and you can avoid harmful behaviors all while building a successful career.

How to Learn More

For specific techniques and expert advice, I’d recommend listening to our recent Recap series of the Medical Mnemonist Podcast. Even if this is being read a few years in the future, the information is evergreen and still very valuable. It has been split up into a few sections, starting with episode 46, to best compress and summarize an entire year’s worth of interviews, lessons, and personal experiences. You can also use the links in each episode’s show notes for more direct information about a particular subject of interest.

With this outline of errors to be aware of, passive and active learning techniques, and mnemonic skills development you can greatly improve your study efficiency. For a full list of all topics covered, please consider watching the whole presentation. Just remember, progress in such a complex field as medicine is slow and gradual. Try to mix up your study habits and find more effective ways to learn. It’ll benefit you greatly in the long run!

Cheryl Conklin is the founder at