The medical school application process can be very stressful. In addition to the overwhelming amount of writing – whether it be the personal statement or the flood of secondaries, there are also the “what ifs”, feelings of inadequacy, and the loneliness of the process. There is no doubt that the application cycle can be a mental battle of its own. Despite these factors, it IS possible to keep the stress level down and have a relatively anxiety free process. Personally, I have been using the following 10 strategies to overcome the mental challenges of my application process. I have found these strategies to be extremely beneficial and I hope they can help those of you also on this journey.
Here are my 10 strategies for managing the stress of the medical school application process:
1. Write in a journal
This is without a doubt one of my top methods for dealing with stress. I have been writing in a private journal since I immigrated to the United States in 2001 – Yes, that long! Research has shown that journaling is an effective way to relieve stress. It allows you to sort out your feelings and emotions and reflect on them. It also allows you to release your negative thoughts, emotions and concerns. It’s worked for me for the past 13 years and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon! Over the years, I’ve switched from fancy journals to simple composition books. If it’s your first time journaling, remember it’s only you reading it – no need to worry about punctuation, legibility and correct grammar. Just write your thoughts away 🙂
2. Get physically active
This is also another one of my favorite ways to de-stress. I find that when I stop working out, I begin to feel overwhelmed and unfocused. It’s common knowledge that exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins – the “feel good” hormone. During this application cycle, I have been taking a West African dance class on Mondays and exercising other times during the weeks. To challenge myself, I did my second obstacle course race two weeks ago (To be fair, I signed up for this race back in Nov 2013). I find that the emotional benefits of exercising are unmatched. If you don’t feel like running, simply turn up the music in your room and have a dance party; your endorphins are guaranteed to go up!
3. Surround yourself with positive people; envision your goal
Positive energy is very important during this process. Don’t let your insecurities get the best of you! It’s important to surround yourself with positive people that encourage and believe in you and your goals. I have also found it beneficial to envision my goal – med school. This sometimes mean creeping through the #Medstudent, #Medschool or #FutureMD hashtag on Instagram to encourage myself (yes, I’ll confess – guilty as charged!) or reading blogs of other med students or current applicants. The goal is to stay as encouraged and motivated as possible. This is also another reason I post the med student spotlight; It’s encouraging to read about other students’ paths to med school. We all have our challenges, but if you persevere, the reward is well worth it.
4. Remove negative people and thoughts
As you begin to surround yourself with positive people who encourage and motivate you, it’s also important to remove the negative factors as well. This could mean spending less time with that friend who seems to always have a discouraging statement on their lips, or possibly deactivating your Facebook. If you find that being on Facebook affects your mood i.e. making you feel less than awesome because you find yourself comparing your current situation to your friends’ seemingly amazing lives, then stay off the social site – at least, for the time being.
5. Stay organized
This is a key to staying sane – seriously. Instead of trying to juggle all the secondary due dates in your head and all the tasks that need to get accomplished, simply write them down. Use your calender or planner. As I mentioned in a previous post, I use excel to track my secondary due dates, completion dates, and my overall application process. I feel a little less stressed knowing that everything is one place and I know exactly what I need to do and when it needs to get done.
Praying is one of my top strategies during this process. I find comfort in knowing that God is in control and that His plan for me is perfect. I know that he is looking out for me which is a huge burden off my shoulders. I especially rely on this verse:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
7. Talk to people
If writing isn’t your thing, then talking to people is one alternative. Although your friends may not be on this path with you, they are most likely willing to listen to you vent on the challenges of this process. A good friend, sibling, or parent is more often than not, willing to lend a listening ear. It’ll make you feel better and they may have some encouraging words for you. First, of course, you have to open your mouth. Don’t hold all that stress inside.
8. Be social
Just because you’re applying doesn’t mean your social life is over – how miserable would that be! It’s okay to take a break from secondaries or studying for MCAT, and hang out with friends. You can chill out with some Netflix or if you live in a city like I do, check out some of the events going on. This past weekend, for example, I spent some time studying, then treated myself to a local jazz festival – I regret nothing!
9. Manage your time wisely
You know what you need to do, your friends and family may not, so it’s important to manage your priorities wisely. Time management is key here! Sometimes that means saying no to friends – “Sorry, but I can’t go out tonight,” or perhaps taking a day off work to get some writing done. Your time is especially valuable during this application process. However, when it’s all over, there will be lots of time to spare on any and everything, along with the joy of an acceptance.
10. Relax and hope for the best
Lastly, relax and hope for the best. You’ve worked hard and sacrificed quite a bit to get to this point. By now, you are certain you want an acceptance more than anything you’ve ever wanted in your life (meaning you can’t see yourself being anything BUT a doctor). That said, remember that even if the cycle doesn’t go as well as you planned, you can STILL become a doctor. That might mean applying a second or third time like some current med students and residents that I know. One thing I have learned is that this whole journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like any marathon, there are highs and lows, moments where you might fall or feel at your worst, but the key thing is to keep pushing towards your goal. If you have that drive, determination and perseverance, you WILL succeed. At least, I am certain that I WILL succeed, no matter how long it takes 🙂