Medical School is an incredibly challenging and isolating experience. There are very few people who know what you are going through and even fewer who can give you incisive advice on dealing with the challenges that come with this journey. While I am in no position to give advice, as I am a struggling second year medical student myself, I feel like I have learnt a trick or two since being placed in a high-stress environment. I will tell you how self-care changed the game for me. I now feel like I can play the game instead of being played by the game.
Self-care, in the simplest sense, is anything that fills your soul and warms your heart. We have all heard various idioms essentially saying the same thing about self care: “you cannot pour from an empty cup” or “put your mask on before assisting others”. While these sayings are not wrong, they are vague in their method of action. Self-care has become incredibly sensationalized these past few years for all the right reasons, but no one really tells you the practices that might provide some instant gratification. Sure, building long-term habits such as meditation, exercise and a healthy diet mitigates chronic burnout, but in the true fashion of a Gen-Z’er, I want to know what I can do now when I’m feeling acutely burnt out.
We are all currently experiencing a global pandemic that has been incredibly trying on everyone. We are all more stressed and anxious than usual with the uncertainty of the current reality. As students, we have to constantly be adaptable and flexible to change, and that can be mentally exhausting and draining. So I’m going to share some of my favorite self-care habits I do regularly that provide the dopamine hit we need now more than ever.
1. Buy A Gadget That Will Simplify Your Life
There is a concept I use while considering a purchase called “the law of diminishing returns” where you perform your own personal cost/benefit analysis of a product as it relates to your own life. At some point you will realize that there are some products that will only marginally add benefit to your life and some that may actually increase quality of life.
For example, I am someone who loves tea and microwaves water for my tea (sorry for the sacrilegious act, my British friends), so I bought an electric kettle with a built-in loose tea infuser that added value to my lifestyle. For me, using this tea kettle provided me with a simple, consistent joyous excitement whilst making numerous cups of tea throughout the day. I am fully aware I am absolutely raving over an appliance, but let me tell you, it makes me so much happier and it makes long hours of studying more bearable. For you, that could be an external monitor in addition to your laptop, a better office chair, or a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Anything that will provide you the value of delight is worth your money.
I am a strong believer in making your life easier. We are already locked in our rooms for hours on end staring(studying) at 1000-page textbooks, listening to Physeo lectures at 2X speed, and getting wrecked by Anki reviews, so I urge you to do something nice for yourself. Get yourself a present because you deserve it. It is an act of self-care to add a gadget that will provide you enjoyment consistently.
The Nordic and Scandinavian people have coined a word to describe a lifestyle that is the constant feeling of “coziness” or “conviviality”. In Dutch, the word is “Gezellig” and in Danish it is “Hygge”. There are so many ways to incorporate this lifestyle in your day-to-day living. One can make their space more “Gezellig” by lighting candles, stringing fairy lights, and decorating with plants. One can practice “Hygge” by eating your favorite comfort food while watching classic movies in fuzzy socks. During my time studying abroad, my Swedish friend introduced me to “Fika” which is essentially a daily coffee break. Fika is the concept that you do not power through the workday without taking time for yourself. We all take study breaks, but why don’t we level up our study breaks with better coffee with some friends and maybe a baked good?
Next time you have a long study session on the books, you can start by lighting your favorite candle, wearing a comfortable sweater and having a beverage to sip on. You can incorporate these practices every day to bring you warmth; they do not have to be reserved for special occasions or holidays!
3. Social Media Purge
I think we are all on the same page about experiencing “FOMO” or the fear of missing out while you’re in Medical School. It is not uncommon to be jealous of your peers who seem to be moving on with their life while you seem to be living the same day over and over again.
One day, about 2 months ago, I decided to delete all my social media apps on my phone and see if I would miss it. I didn’t. I felt overall less inclined to look at my phone, respond to texts during study time, and break my concentration by playing an inane game. I challenge you all to make the decision to forgo social media and the distractions that come with it. Mindlessly scrolling through snapchat stories and liking instagram posts drain our very precious emotional reserves. Take care of yourself by protecting your energy and who or what you decide to spend it on. You must set boundaries with social media. When it starts feeling like a chore, that’s when you know you have to shut it down. Social media fatigue is real, so be kind to yourself and put your needs first.
4. Go On A Long Walk
There is something incredibly grounding by spending some time in nature in the sun. Go outside and photosynthesize. Breathe in fresh air instead of the stale air in your room that has a stench that you can’t quite describe.
Going on nightly walks is the beginning to my unwinding routine. I clear my head, listen to a podcast or music, and pet the occasional puppy I see.
5. Go To An Animal Shelter
Or some variation of spending time with a cute puppy or kitten. I think this is pretty self-explanatory; animals are adorable and they instantly make you happy. Perhaps you can find your nearest friend with a pet, steal the cute animal and cuddle with it. Make sure you return the pet before your friend notices though.
6. Cook A Hearty Meal/Bake a New Dessert
This is arguably my favorite way to decompress and get myself out a rut. Following a recipe and seeing a delicious tangible end product is a great way to nourish your soul. I know we are all incredibly busy with studying, but if you find yourself unable to focus or comprehend the material, taking a break to cook is a good call. These past few months in quarantine, I have been perfecting my copy-cat recipe for the chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. Maybe you can finally start learning how to make sourdough bread or brewing your own kombucha. Pick a recipe that you want to learn and make it your signature dish.
7. Clean Your Surroundings
Engaging in mundane tasks is both therapeutic and will give you a sense of accomplishment. If you ever feel like you cannot study but you have motivation to do something, clean up your surroundings! You will not only feel refreshed but so will your space. I started doing a power hour where I clean up my room, do my dishes, fold laundry, and clear my desk. Doing this every so often will make sure you will never be in such a state of disarray where your space is an “organized mess”.
8. Video Chat With an Old Pal
Along with the COVID-19 Pandemic there seems to be a loneliness pandemic, despite how connected we are. I’m sure we all prefer texting since it is convenient and doesn’t require having a continuous conversation, but we should try Video Calls since it is so underrated. While it is not the same as face-to-face communication, it is a great substitute during a pandemic. You can play online card or quiz games with friends or just have a deep talk about life. A group of my friends and I meet weekly over Zoom to play Quiplash, and I find myself talking to friends while I go on my nightly walks that help me clear my head.
Do not feel like you have to call someone every day, however. Know your boundaries and recognize that even being fully present with friends can be emotionally draining. Do what is best for you and get to know yourself in solitude, but don’t let yourself feel lonely.
9. Watch Some YouTube Videos/Netflix
When lectures start sounding like white noise, that is when I turn to YouTube to consume some content. I personally love watching cooking shows, clips from my favorite netflix comedies, and SNL skits. Sometimes you need to just shut off your brain and not think, especially if you are feeling fatigued. There is no use replaying lectures in hopes of understanding it for the 3rd time if you are just tired. Listen to your body cues, and take a break and do something that is mindless.
10. Body and Health Maintenance
Quarantine has caused us to exclusively live in our sweatpants and allowed us the eventual metamorphosis into a potato. Just like we clean up our living space during spring cleaning, we have to do the same for ourselves. This includes, but is not limited to, getting a massage, taking a bath, and getting a long overdue haircut. Forgo the baggy T-shirt and take a nice shower in the morning, put on a comfortable put-together outfit and groom yourself as if you were going into class. We spend way too much time with our head in the books, so don’t feel bad about getting something nice done for yourself.
You deserve to look and feel like a million bucks.
Self-care is so personal and you know yourself more than anyone. Do not feel like you need to follow all these tips to take care of yourself, I simply provided some of my favorite ways to decompress that works for me. As we navigate through a highly technical field that centers around the notion of caring for people, we must not forget to take care of ourselves. The best way we can help others is by making sure our cup is always filled. Figure out ways to incorporate your personal pockets of peace into your daily living.