Prioritizing Wellness

By: Amna Jamil 

Medical education might adversely affects student’s mental health. The curricular objectives are dynamic due to expanding knowledge and evolving therapies. Medical student’s should acquire adequate professional knowledge, skill, and attitudes in order to prepare themselves to deal with life-long professional challenges independently. However, the demands of the learning and training might adversely affect the student’s physical and mental health.

Mental health is regarded as an essential component of health by the World Health Organization. A person could be termed depressed if he/she shows a variable combination of low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep, or disturbed concentration.1

The American Psychological Association characterizes anxiety and stress by feelings of tension, physical changes, and worried thoughts. Anxiety is more related to autonomic arousal, skeletal muscle tension, and situational aspects, whereas stress is more related to irritability, impatience, and difficulty in relaxing.

A few months ago, many of us thought Coronavirus was something that would never affect us personally. Then the virus made its way to the whole world. The number of cases and death continued to grow, and we went into a nationwide lockdown. Society was undergoing unprecedented changes, and so too was my life as a medical student.

Difficult times, unprecedented times, different times. Regardless of how the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders are phrased, the impact on many is the same. We have been asked to socially isolate. These actions are necessary to protect ourselves and our communities, but there is a heavy impact it can have on wellness, especially for students. Medical education is already a uniquely challenging time in our lives. Personally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused me anxiety. As medical students we are greatly impacted by the swift changes in medical education. Our traditional learning environments and clinical rotations have become virtual lectures and online simulations and research halted. Despite being overwhelmed with these changes, I have prioritized my physical and mental wellbeing. Then, I remembered three vital skills that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy taught me.

Mindfulness: Set aside a few minutes each day, away from distractions, to simply sit comfortably and notice the thoughts coming into your mind in the present moment. Make a point to notice these thoughts without assigning judgment to them and to focus on what you are feeling in the present. If your mind starts to wander, gently nudge it back to the present moment, again, without judging yourself, trying to always focus on the here and now. Controlled Breathing: If you are experiencing some of the physical manifestations of anxiety, try breathing in deeply to the count of three at a comfortable pace, and then exhaling to the count of three, while silently saying the word “relax” to yourself. Try to focus entirely on your breath over a full breath cycle, following the air as it enters through your nose, into your lungs, and back up out of your mouth. After a few breath cycles, you will hopefully notice your pulse slowing and these physical symptoms lessening. There are also many videos and apps that can help guide you through this practice that are great if you would like some outside assistance. Though Labelling and Analysis: If you find yourself with many thoughts provoking feelings of anxiety, try to write these thoughts down on paper. Try analyzing these thoughts to see if they are realistic or if there are any logical fallacies. Is the thought assuming the absolute worst outcome? Are you thinking in complete black and white terms? Are there any patterns to the fallacies in these thoughts that you are making? By analyzing our thoughts, we are able to regain power over them and decide for ourselves whether to believe these thoughts and allow them to affect us. I encourage anyone currently struggling with anxiety and stress in these times to take some time each day and try any of these techniques.

These vitals signs are also effective in managing my anxiety in the past. By implementing these techniques back into my life, I have been able to get a handle on my anxiety once again, even in these fearful and uncertain times, and I believe that they are useful tools for anyone to combat the anxiety stress we are all experiencing currently.

During this time, it’s about social distancing. I try to do small things with great love—offer support and empathy for my loved ones. Spiritually, I find peace in knowing that strength, hope and resilience will come out of this season. It’s important to be flexible and to give myself the time and space, I try to utilize this opportunity to get creative and increase my feel-good activities. Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise for about 30 minutes a day provides health benefits. I prioritize eating healthy, staying hydrated and getting about 8 hours of sleep because it can help build the immune system. Moving the body also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Sometimes, a brisk walk or jog can clear the mind. . I hope that others can also find peace in knowing that this is a transition and that we are not alone in this journey. These challenging times will make us stronger, bolder, and resilient future professionals.