Let me set the stage for you…medical school is like taking a sip of water from a fire hydrant, the delivery of information is more than you can imagine, it just keeps coming at you and and you have to learn how to manage it because this experience will continue for 4 years!
Even though you aren’t in medical school, does this description sound a lot like your life? I’m not sure how it all happened, but so many people tell me how overwhelmed they are and that their health is suffering because of it. So read on to to see how I am going to manage my health through med school for the next 4 years!
I am in the class of 2018 at Bastyr University San Diego, there are 65 of us in the Naturopathic Doctor program and I’ve got 20 – 30 years on my classmates. Their maturity, brilliance, memory and quick thinking skills are amazing! There is a lot for me to keep up with.
Every day that I go to school I feel like an olympic athlete, my mind has to be sharp and focused whether that’s at 8am, after lunch, 5pm or after dinner for more studying. I have to be able to type at lightening speed as the instructor is 2-3 sentences ahead of my typing. The more I can absorb and understand during class the more efficient and less repetitious my studies will be later. And besides, there just isn’t enough time to keep going over all the material when I have 27 units of classes and labs. Some students don’t pass a class simply because there isn’t time to study for an exam!
There are 10 minutes between classes or labs in which I have to pack up my things, use the rest room, get myself to the next class, make sure I have the current power point down loaded and am ready to take notes and absorb information all over again! It’s a lot of mental work but it’s physical as well as we are constantly lugging our computer bags, books and selves between the 1st and 2nd floors and the clinic next door. Gross Anatomy lab requires standing for 2 hours at a stretch in very cold temperatures while making precise cuts, carefully dissecting and learning from what we see. There is no note taking, there are no clean surfaces to have pen and paper let alone clean hands to use them. We have to take it all in from what we see, so our eyes and mind better be clear!
Having expert level skills in time management is critical not only to handle the school work but also to manage my health during an overwhelming, fast paced 11 week quarter. Many of things that I do to support my brain endurance and health in general I have done before and I have even taught these things in my classes and programs but now I can REALLY feel that if I don’t do these things then my ability to tackle my studying and be physically and mentally fit suffers!
1. EAT YOUR MEALS ON TIME! Don’t be late for any of the 3 meals. Don’t wait til you have symptoms of falling blood sugar, that’s too late if you want to keep your brain energy stable and sharp. Eating at the same time every day for each meal trains your biochemistry to function optimally, this is key for high level brain function.
2. FIND YOUR BALANCE WITH PROTEIN, FAT, CARB AND VEGGIE FIBER EVERY MEAL. You must get to know not only what carb but how much carb or which proteins keep your energy and brain focus highest. There is no one meal that is right for each person – find the exact foods in each category (protein, fat, carb, fiber) that is best for you! Always eat veggie fiber at 2 meals per day and 3 is even better!
3. DO NOT EAT FOODS THAT YOU ARE INTOLERANT OF – EVER! This implies that you find, know and 100% own your food intolerances first! Then, never eat them if you want to keep your energy, focus, attention span and mood even and productive.
4. DO NOT EAT LATE AT A NIGHT. This might be 7pm or 8pm or 8:30pm depending on your day but you get the idea. Stop eating after your evening meal is over. Never go to bed when you are full unless you want to have restless sleep and be tired the next day. This leads to the next strategy.
5. GET 7-9 HOURS OF SLEEP EVERY NIGHT! This is so critical I can’t emphasize it enough. This strategy is very challenging for me but I really work on it especially when exams are happening. This is probably one of the key strategies that really keeps the stress of the body lower, immune system stronger and brain endurance heartier. Might I add that not sleeping enough promotes weight gain, take a look at the research, its all out there.
6. GET EXERCISE OF ANY KIND 6 DAYS PER WEEK. When I have multiple exams I may not have time to take the 90 minute hike I love or go to the gym for even an hour but even a 30 – 40 min fast walk makes an enormous difference when I need my brain to keep functioning at a high level. There no excuses to simply put on your shoes and walk out the door.
7. DO NOT EAT SUGAR! Sugar is a poisonous food for the brain (and the rest of your body too). If you have some tough stuff to tackle (or even if you don’t), you need to be focused and calm especially when anxiety is breathing down your neck, you need your brain to keep going because the work load keeps going…don’t eat sugar!! This will increase anxiety, restlessness with your sleep, erratic blood sugar which will just make you want more sugar and give you a dopamine hit in your brain that will drive you, like any good addict, right back for more sugar!
BONUS STRATEGY: MEDITATE. Learn how, read, go to a lecture or workshop, but learn how. Start with a very short amount of time and build as you learn more. Although listed last here, I would never give this up no matter what. If I could only teach you one thing I would teach you to meditate!