Anxiety is one of the more prevalent mental diseases of our age. It shouldn’t have to stop you from becoming a doctor. In fact, it’s one of the most common experiences most med students will face.
I know it gets the better of me at times. It was only last week, returning back to studies as a 4th year student, that the pit in my stomach returned once again. Overly anticipating the year in front of me, and all the work involved, it’s hard not to get anything but anxious.
But there are coping strategies that can help you overcome it.
See a Clinician
I’ve written about overcoming overwhelm in medical school before. As a symptom of anxiety however, it doesn’t always require as serious treatment as a single emotion. Anxiety, on the other hand, is generally considered a collection of emotions. Making for an overall intense experience.
This is why the first step in dealing with it, just as in medicine as it is in life, is to seek clinical help. Especially as it can oftentimes be debilitating in nature if left unresolved or untreated. Sometimes being the root cause of failing in med school itself.
So seek out a psychiatrist if possible. Or speak to someone available in a mental health support team. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, just because you know some medicine, you’re able to diagnose or treat yourself. That’s not how it works.
If you’re studying medicine abroad and feel isolated, seek out an online consultation with someone back home. Just don’t keep your feelings to yourself.
Just do this first. Medicating your condition might mean be the only way of making it through.
Working in healthcare isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need a certain amount of emotional strength and intelligence to deal with the responsibilities of becoming a doctor. And this gets only more demanding with time; when you become even more specialised or take on even further responsibility.
If you feel your problems with anxiety are unmanageable even with the support of medical help, you have to be honest with yourself. A career as a doctor might not be the best fit for you if you can’t see things improving.
Whether that should deter you from continuing studies or not isn’t for me to say. There is lots you can do outside of medicine with a medical degree of course, but perhaps a hospital or clinical environment aren’t the best places for you to be.
Work out what it is that’s causing your anxiety. Make a list. Decide how or if each of these issues can be addressed.
Use this knowledge to make an informed decision about your future. Don’t be rash.
Remember also that sometimes, as the psychologists and psychiatrists chronicled in this article suggest, it might not be medicine or a medical environment at all that’s causing the issue.
So don’t jump to the conclusion that your anxiety would be any less outside of medicine. Or that it’s the cause.
It really needs to be investigated.
Aim for Balance not Grades
There’s a difference between stress and anxiety but both can overwhelm. The former is more short-term. The latter can linger. Either way, a lack of balance in your life as a med student isn’t going to help.
Sometimes you need stress in your life to meet certain goals. Without it, most of us maybe wouldn’t discipline ourselves to get the work done that stands to benefit us in the first place.
Too much of it though? Tips the balance the other way. Piling up to aggravate or trigger anxiety. Thus compounding the problems pertaining to each.
This is why I say it should be every med students priority to work smart rather than hard. Because all the time you spend not working, helps sustain you in the long run. Preventing you from burn out and better placing you for the marathon that is medical education.
So do what you can to strike a balance.
Related: How to Succeed in Medical School
Examine Your Thought Patterns
The best way to counter anxiety in med school is to work out the triggers for it in the first place. This involves being organised with your approach. Detailing your day and listing out all the events that typically happen throughout.
Doing this will help you gain greater insight into the cause of your problems and better understand how you can go about addressing them.
Having done this myself as a returning student, I’ve figured out exactly what sets me in to a spin. It’s always the first week back at med school that troubles me, especially adjusting to a new schedule or meeting new professors or hospital wards for the first time.
To counter this I tell myself to take the first week easy. To not get so intense about things, my own study schedule, habits etc, being absolutely perfect. Making time instead to catch up with friends, relax doing non-medical related things and slowly acclimatise back to things after a summer away.
It’s important you incorporate positive aspects of self-talk into your day. Remind yourself that feeling anxious is fine, something you’ve dealt with plenty of times before and consistently come through.
Also remember just how common it is. It’s felt by all of us at one point or another. Whether we openly admit it or not.
Anxiety is common among med students and nobody is alone in experiencing it. That said, it can be managed and only in exceptional cases may be cause for you to quit.
More often that not, there are things you can do to mitigate it.
Hopefully this article can serve as encouragement for you take the correct action first.
Image Credit: Engin Akyurt at Unsplash
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.