It is 2 a.m. and you’re thinking to yourself, “How did I get into this situation again?” You know, where you promised yourself you wouldn’t get behind in that subject again. As you come to a full understanding of your circumstances, your heart begins to race because you realize you still have to nail down cardiac embryology for the anatomy exam in the morning. (Those of you who have taken anatomy, you know that is no easy feat!) You think to yourself, “I had plenty of time to study for this exam, so where did all the time go?” At this point, stress and the foramen ovale are the only things on your mind. With stress taking up a significant portion of your brainpower, you are not just studying late, but quite inefficiently.
So what am I getting at? We tell ourselves that this level of stress is “normal.” We signed up for this long trek of academic punishment, so we just have to deal with the associated stress. True, elevated stress is to be expected while earning any terminal degree, but does it have to be as high as we think? Honestly, for the majority of students here, it doesn’t.
When I interviewed at DMU’s College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS), two of the questions the interviewers asked me were what I do for fun and how do I handle stress. In retrospect, I now see how these were not two separate questions, but two parts of a single question. The faculty on the other side of the interview table know exactly what you are getting into. You, on the other hand, have no idea. They know you need an outlet and a healthy way to handle the stress.
One of the things we can do soften the blow of this torrential onslaught is to take a look at your study style. If there is one thing I could go back and change about my experience so far, it would be to come to DMU with an open mind about how I study. Your study strategy worked great in undergrad; it still works per se at DMU, but is it the most efficient and effective way to study? Be aware of how you learn. Are you an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner? I was surprised at how much my style changed from kinesthetic in undergrad to visual now. Use this re-evaluation to strategically schedule your study time, and you have just increased your study efficiency exponentially.
But how do you schedule study time strategically? Isn’t setting aside a large chunk of your day for studying enough? I would beg to differ. Take your six-hour study block and turn it into several small blocks with a break in between each block as a reward. Setting out a stretch of time to study “subject A” creates short-term goals and (at least for me) creates a rewarding feeling of accomplishment throughout the day. When the day is over, you’ve actually had a lot more focused study time than before, because you spent less of the “study block” goofing off.
Now, what to do with those breaks and other time off? Aside from sleep, may I humbly suggest reading a book? Yes, a book and not the electronic kind. A physical, in-your-hand, made-of-paper book. You have just spent the last block of time staring at the Krebs Cycle on your computer screen; it is time for you and your computer to have a break. It can be amazing how spending some time reading can relax your mind and charge you up for another go-around. I challenge you to pick up a book this week and give it a shot. Even though these seem commonsense, try and give these simple ideas a go and see what happens to your stress level over time.