Stress Spiral

I never thought I would be that girl.  You know, the one that worries about getting enough points in a class to pass.  But this last semester, I found myself going into finals with a C–the horror!–in one of my classes.  I wasn’t failing, but the final exam counted for so many points that I started to get concerned.  Last semester I went into finals worried that my grades would drop, but unconcerned about failing–the finals didn’t count for more than 10% of my grade, so I only needed a handful of points in each class to pass.  This semester was a little different, and because the finals counted for so much more, they were much more stressful.

In the case of my low grade, that particular class had very few points offered, which meant the final exam counted a great deal towards my final grade.  A few days before the final, I counted up how many points I needed in order to pass and I panicked.  It seemed like I needed so many points that I would surely fail.  I was under so much stress that I spiraled until I was sure that not only would I fail this class, but that I would be made to repeat my first year of medical school.


I will ruin the surprise right now and tell you that didn’t happen.  In fact, looking back I feel incredibly foolish for freaking out as much as I did.  At one point I was crying in the study room while my perplexed boyfriend–bless his heart–tried his best to remind me that I am intelligent, I knew the material, and wasn’t going to fail.  As much as I fretted and panicked, I ended up with good grades.  I got a high C in the class I was worried about, but otherwise got B’s.  Its embarrassing the amount of stress I gave myself over an outcome that didn’t come close to occurring.

It was a terrible week, imagining the worst about something that didn’t even happen.  I am usually fairly calm, and am proud to say that other than this particular week, I do a really good job of keeping my stress to a minimal.  However, that week I lost it.  I don’t know how, but I went from having a normal healthy amount of anxiety, to panicking about having to repeat my first year of medical school (an outcome that would have required me to actively try fail).


I was not doing badly enough that failing should have been such a worry to me, but I lost myself in irrational “what if’s”.  Its hard to successfully manage stress when you are barely sleeping, studying 16 hours a day, and can’t maintain your normal schedule.    And after a long semester of stress slowly building up, I was met with a final week of trying to relearn all that material. I guess I should have seen my minor freak out coming!

We get bombarded with information, day in and day out.  We are tested constantly.  The hardest thing about medical school isn’t necessarily the complexity of the information, it is the shear volume of it.  With only a few days to reacquaint myself with the information before the final, I began to feel as though I would never get through it all.  This only added to my anxiety as I shut myself in the library and overwhelmed myself with information from past exams.


But after all that worry and heartache, my grades were fine.  I spent so much time last week in a panic, and it was absolutely not worth it.  I work hard, and in general, I get great grades.  This semester, I got a C.  The world didn’t end.  I’m still going to be an amazing doctor.  I’m never going to stop trying my best, but never again am I going to let my stress level spiral out of control like that.

I’ve been home on break for a week now, and I’ve done nothing but read novels and re-watch episodes of Parks and Recreation.  It has been glorious.  I really didn’t realize how stressed I was until I had the time to just do nothing.  I know that I can’t have this kind of freedom during the school year, but hopefully I will be able to hold on to some of the perspective.  I don’t want to be one of those people is miserable in medical school because I put too much pressure on myself.  I’ve got a few weeks of summer to recover from the stress of my first year of medical school–hopefully that is enough time to refuel before starting the next semester.  But in the mean time I will just relax and bask in the satisfaction of being 1/4 a doctor!


‘Blorft’ and Stress Relief

I think it is somewhat of an understatement to say that with medical school comes a certain amount of stress.  We had our second anatomy practical last Friday and our fourth block exam this Monday.  I basically lived at the school that weekend.  My stress level was–to put it lightly–significant.  I think Tina Fey said it best (in her great American novel, Bossypants):  “I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”

Disclaimer:  I haven't taken up smoking, I promise.

Disclaimer: I haven’t taken up smoking, I promise.

Honestly, I don’t even expect you all to feel sorry for me.  I asked for this.  I was the one who decided to go to medical school, after all 🙂  But it did make me want to write a blog post about how to deal with stress.

The advice I was given the most often at the beginning of school was, “Make time for the things that you love.”  And I will pass on that advice to the first years next year because believe me, I wouldn’t be sane right now if I hadn’t taken it to heart.  I love science.  Spending all day learning about medicine is–and I am not even being sarcastic–fulfilling and exciting.  But there are times that if I have to spend any more time reading about biochemistry, or memorizing lists of antiviral drugs, my head would just explode.


I’ve got televisions shows that I keep up with.  I play ultimate frisbee twice a week.  I hang out with friends and talk with my family as much as possible.  I take frequent study breaks and make sure to get lots of sleep.  But guys, I have this deep, dark secret.  This one hobby that gets me through the hard times.  Are you ready?

I bake.

Ok, so its not all that intriguing.  But it is true none-the-less.  I loved to cook and bake before, but something about coming to medical school has made the simple act of creating food particularly cathartic to me.  Even when I am really busy, I go out of my way to make my own dinner rather than just eating out.  I’ve started baking my own bread; even just the smell of it calms me down.  After the first block I came home and made a whole batch of cinnamon rolls from scratch.   And I can’t tell you how many dozens of cookies I’ve baked since school began.

Which logically means that the answer to any problem is 'pie.'

Which logically means that the answer to any problem is ‘pie.’

Yes, I suppose that I could have taken the time I was baking (or watching TV or playing Ultimate Frisbee or whatever) and studied instead.  I might have better grades right now if I did.  But I think I can safely say I would also be miserable.  I would be burnt out on school, and probably seriously neglecting my personal relationships.  As a second year friend of mine once told me, “If I get higher than a 95 on a section of a block, then I either neglected another subject, or my husband and I have a problem I don’t know about yet.”

I’m already struggling to keep up with friends and family.  And many days I mess up the balance of work and play–I study until the words stop making sense, or I conveniently ‘forget’ to study and end up cramming later.  But overall, I think I’m doing alright.  My grades are fine, I still have friends and I talk to my family regularly, and–most importantly–I haven’t cracked under the pressure.

Everybody has something they do to relieve stress and keep sane.  Some people run marathons; others do some form of art.  I happen to bake.  What’s yours?