For the past 3 weeks, I sat for 11 final exams, and I can tell you one thing: I was STRESSED OUT.
For all my life, I battled with stress. I rarely admit it, but it’s true. When it’s exam season, I get nightmares & barely any sleep, I get muscle aches and I’m on my nerves 24/7. My parents always tell me that I need to manage it, but for me it was always easier said than done. The turning point where I started to actually take my parent’s advice seriously (don’t judge, I was still 16 by then haha) was when I woke up one day to a severe muscle cramp in my neck on the day of my biology IGCSE back in 2010, and I had to see a doctor before sitting for that exam. It was then that I realized that things had to change, and they had to change now.
I have always been a perfectionist. I start panicking if I’m late to anything at all, even if it was just a family gathering and I’m running 10 minutes late. I get anxious whenever I have a deadline and can’t stop thinking about it, and God oh God do you not want to see me during exam week; so obviously changing this about myself was not an easy task, and it is something I still deal with everyday. Being in medical school didn’t help alleviate the stress in my life, but it did help me realize that we should control our subconscious thoughts and not the other way around.
“You are what you think”
Dealing with stress is not easy. I read numerous articles about it, and I tried to educate myself as much as I can, but actually applying it is a process not a procedure; meaning you try everyday, and everyday you improve just a little bit until you reach a point where you can really manage yourself. The first 3 years at university were really hard for me because in Jordan, that’s when you take an average of 3-4 lectures per day and then have an exam almost every 3 weeks. We had some labs, but no clinical experience, which meant that most of the time you spent was learning and studying rather than interacting with others. It really drains you having so much to learn in so little time and also trying to balance it with my social life, my magazine work, my voluntary work, etc!
One important aspect of managing your stress is to take some time for yourself. This is actually one of the things that is a lot much easier said than done thanks to our era of social media and constant alerts and notifications. Taking time off can have different meanings to each and every one of us. Some enjoy watching a movie, others might enjoy a run, but whatever you do, make sure it really does clear your head of your day-to-day responsibilities. It sounded trivial to me at the beginning, but when I really started practicing my hobbies with my phone in another room, I began achieving more when it came back to work time.
More importantly, you should really learn to say no. I love getting involved with new projects; they excite me, and I love having my time filled with activities that build who I am. However, it’s very important to realize that we all have limits, and that sometimes it’s okay to say no. This also involves saying no to your friends. As a med student, sometimes you have to compromise trips, outings and events due to exams or even because you just need some time off. It’s crucial to be around people who understand that as well. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling guilty and put under more stress.
I cannot stress enough on the fact that you should surround yourself with people who help you deal with this (pun intended). I don’t completely agree with the thought that the people you hang around define who you are, but I 100% believe in the fact that the people you surround yourself with can really affect your life. There are people who make the world a landscape of rainbows and butterflies, and others who turn it into a blackhole of judgement and distress. Life can be a lot easier when you take it one day at a time and stop dwelling on the negatives. You don’t have to put up with people who put you down because every problem really does have a solution, and in the rare case that it doesn’t, it can at least be managed. You have no idea how grateful I am for the people I call when I’m having a bad day, because these are the people I truly hold dear to my heart.
Because I was in denial that I had a problem for such a long time, I never bothered to find a solution, but admitting that I had a problem with stress was the first step towards a new me. The second step was realizing that it had to change. I began identifying the aspects of my life that caused me most stress, and I wrote down a plan. I’ve always been a planner, and writing a to-do list is something I’ve always done. And so, I applied it to everything. I would write everything that needed to be studied, for example, for a test then started ticking off one at a time. The more I achieved, the happier and less tense I became. On exam day, I would wake up a little earlier to have a good breakfast, get dressed and go there on time. The fact that I didn’t have to rush my morning routine calms my nerves and gives me time to really wake up and be mentally prepared for the exam.
Who am I now? I still get stressed, I still panic from time to time, but now I know how to handle it. I don’t wait until I end up in an ER to realize that I need to slow things down. I started cutting off the toxic relationships in my life, and keep the ones that are of value. I still have many friends that I’d like to see more often, but knowing and accepting that with my busy schedule this isn’t possible makes it a little bit okay. Otherwise, I just take it one day at a time!
How do you manage your stress?