No argument here – studying for exams is stressful at any time, but even more so in the midst of a global pandemic. Talk about a perfect storm! There are ways to navigate the rough waves ahead, though. Don’t passively ride it out, build a better boat. Here are some common stressors and solutions that will help you get the results you want – today, or anytime you need to crack open the books.
STRESSOR: COVID-19 redeployment and a higher than usual workload means you have less time to study and it is stressing you out.
SOLUTION: Change what you can. Maybe you can’t alter your workload commitment, but you can up your game when it comes to making the most of your study time with these tips.
- Know thyself. Are you a night owl or early bird? Use your most alert time to double-down on studying.
- Take back your day. We have all moments that we could put to better use. A commute, for instance, can be the perfect time to crack open a book, as can waiting in any one of the ubiquitous COVID lines we find ourselves stuck in these days.
- Pencil Yourself In. Schedule everything into your phone. Once you see how and where you’re actually spending time, you’ll probably find new ways to block off study time.
- Think big picture. If you’re having trouble prioritizing time, remember why you’re doing this incredibly challenging thing. You’ll quickly realize that squeezing more time out of your day is worth figuring out.
STRESSOR: Prepping for exams while living through a pandemic has your anxiety and stress levels going through the roof. You feel completely unprepared and unable to concentrate.
SOLUTION: Ask anyone who’s been through exam season and they will tell you that your feelings are completely normal – pandemic or otherwise. Let’s face it, exams are a big deal and there’s a lot on the line. You’re well within your rights to feel a bit freaked out by everything. It’s important to prioritize your mental health during this time because it will go a long way in helping you focus on the task at hand – nailing your exams. Here are some tried-and-true ways to support your mental health.
- Confront your negative thoughts. Feeling unprepared? Write that down on a piece of paper. A University of Chicago study published a few years ago in Science found that the simple act of writing out your worries before a high-stakes exam can actually boost test scores. This simple act of unloading negativity also creates space for more positive thoughts. Think about some favourite self-affirmations and write them down, too. A sticky note on your bathroom mirror that says: “I am in control of my life” will help you start your day on a positive note while reminding you that you’ve gotten this far because of your determination to be the best. Are you more of an app person? Check out ThinkUp for great affirmations to help you deal with everything from stress to self-esteem issues.
- Eat well, stress less: Keep your cortisol levels in check by watching your sugar intake. A smart food plan will help you manage your stress throughout the day. Eat a balanced breakfast with protein and veggies, lay off the fast food lunch, and resist late-night junk food urges, to keep your stress hormones from spiking. A good night’s sleep and 30 minutes of daily activity will also help you maintain cortisol levels and thus minimize your stress.
- Practice mindfulness. There’s lots of research that links mindful meditation to better mental health. If you don’t have a routine, try out this super-simple 5-5-5- breathing exercise to help calm you and reduce rising anxiety levels. It goes like this: Inhale through your nose for a count of 5, exhale through your mouth for 5, then wait 5 seconds before repeating the cycle. Repeat a minimum of 3 times.
- Tune in to tune out. According to a University of Zurich study, listening to music impacts our psychobiological stress system in a positive way. The researchers had subjects listen to music before a stressful situation and found that it helped their autonomic nervous system recover faster, and, to a lesser degree, their endocrine and psychological stress responses. “Siri, play my favourite songs.”
- Talk it out. Perspective is everything so, if you can, talk through your anxieties with someone who has gone through this process. Sometimes, just getting a sense that another person felt the same as you can make you feel less alone and less anxious.
STRESSOR: You’re concerned about conducting your oral exams remotely.
SOLUTION: This is a legitimate stress that’s new to everyone thanks to COVID-19. But you can manage it by being prepared for it. Take note of these dos and don’ts:
- DO a dress rehearsal (or six) ahead of time. The more comfortable you are with the technology – from connecting to a call, to knowing where to look on the screen – the less it will intimidate you. If you need to brush up on Zoom technology, check out this user’s starting guide.
- DON’T feel like you have to fill every silence. Gaps in conversation are natural, but you may be more aware of them when you’re staring at a screen. Fight the urge to fill the space with needless chatter. Take your cues from your interviewer.
- DO project poise. Sit tall, maintain eye contact and enunciate your words. All of these actions communicate confidence.
- DON’T wear bold stripes, loud patterns or noisy, shiny jewellery. All of these things become major distractions over a remote call when there’s nowhere else to look.
- DO check our link for more helpful tips on how to make the most of a virtual interview.
STRESSOR: You’re feeling burned out from the pandemic and frankly, lacking motivation to study for your exams.
SOLUTION: Burnout is a real – and rising – concern for everyone in the medical community during the pandemic. If you think you might be dealing with this, please know that you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are many resources available to you, starting with our guide that identifies some of the common signs and solutions to help you move forward.
During this extraordinary time, it’s important to keep your eyes on your long game: a fulfilling and flourishing career in medicine. Sure there have been hurdles and curve balls along the way. COVID-19 is one for the ages. But remember, it’s not what’s in front of you that matters as much as what’s inside you. You are everything you need to succeed.