PA Student: How to De-stress

How to De-stress and Relax Even When You Think You Can’t

 

There have been plenty of moments during didactic year where I just felt so overwhelmed yet so budgeted for time that I thought I didn’t have any time to take a break and calm down and tried to push through it. But I knew that I was so much more productive when calm as compared to freaking out over the upcoming exam. Eventually I found a few techniques that worked to calm me down quickly.

 

The first thing I had to do was acknowledge the fact that I was stressing out. You may think to yourself “Well I have a lot of things worthy of stressing out about!” then you just have to tell yourself that overstressing is not going to help. What will help is calming down and taking a break to allow yourself to think and act more clearly. Now, it is important to point out the difference between a normal stress reaction (which is expected) and a reaction that is much greater than normally expected for the amount of stress. A normal stress reaction can be beneficial by giving you that extra burst of energy while working on whatever task you are completing. Also, for some, stress can be a motivator. Knowing something has to be completely done by a specific date gives certain people the extra “push” that they need to work even harder and do even better. However, a stress reaction that may be out of proportion can be very harmful to your studies. A “bad stress” reaction can cause you to lose focus while studying, become irritable, change your appetite, become more anxious, and even become sick. It is very important that you know whether you are having a normal, or good stress reaction which is expected or a bad stress reaction.

If I realized that I was stressing too much I would just take 5 minutes, go into a new room, find a comfy spot to lay down or sit, and then turn off the lights for just 5 minutes and focus on my breathing. I would usually have to set an alarm on my phone as I was very prone to falling asleep when given the opportunity. I would really try to focus on my breathing and nothing else. I would inhale for a count of four through my nose and then exhale for a count of four through my mouth. I would also make sure that I was breathing from my abdomen and not from my chest by placing one hand on my abdomen and one on my chest to make sure that my abdomen was the one moving more. I was a fan of this technique as it only was about 5 minutes long which is not a huge chunk of study time but it was still very effective. Once the five minutes was up I would slowly get up, do a couple of quick stretches, and get back to studying.

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Another thing that would help me while feeling overwhelmed was to make lists. I would make a list for every day that week and each day had a set of goals that I wanted to accomplish. This made everything seem like smaller tasks. It was easier to see a bunch of little things like “study antibiotics part I packet” and “practice clinical skills” written down that were spread out over a few days rather than one big tasks like “study for Clin Med & Physical Diagnosis Lab exam.” As I completed the tasks I would check them off the list and look back and see how much I had already accomplished on the list and tell myself how I didn’t have much more remaining.

 

It is also helpful to take an evening off every once in awhile, not a whole day but an evening. I would try to choose the evening following an exam to take off. Review for a little while once you get home and then say at around 7 pm just take a break. Go out to the movies, bar, bowling, gym, or whatever it really is that you like to do with friends to relax. Just make sure that you don’t have too much fun as a hangover will affect the next days studying and stretch your break out for even longer than originally planned.

 

Lastly, it is important to realize that you are not alone. You aren’t the only one in your class right? Then you are not the only one stressing out about all of the work you have to do. Talk to a friend or even a school counselor to help get those feelings out. Discussing your stress with a friend in that same class is very helpful as they are going through the same thing as you are. If you aren’t one to talk to friends about that kind of stuff then maybe you should try scheduling an appointment and talking to a school counselor. On our first day of classes a professor told us that P.A. was the # 1 major to utilize the school’s counseling center so don’t be afraid to do so. That is what they are there for so you might as well utilize it.

 

Look for my next blog on the importance of staying active during the semester!

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John Bielinski, Jr., MS PAC is a practicing emergency medicine clinician, and has been lecturing nationally for more than ten years, teaching the tactics that have proven invaluable in his career as a medical professional.
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