As the new semester quickly approaches, students around the world are getting ready to go back to school… or to log back onto their university’s preferred video conferencing platform for their classes. As each university decides what is safest for their educators and students, higher education as the world has come to know it is rapidly adapting to a model of digital-first distance learning. Some students will be back on campus, some will be participating in solely-online courses, and others will experience a hybrid online-offline model. Especially if you’re continuing to study from home full-time, maintaining your mental health is a significant element in achieving success.
Spending time at home — especially in quarantine — can be draining. At this point in time, you’ve likely already been home for a while. Perhaps at the beginning, it was nice to feel the social pressure of meeting up friends and colleagues be lifted from your shoulders; but now, you may be really missing some of these everyday social interactions. The Coronavirus SARS-CoV 2 isn’t going away anytime soon — so the start of a new semester is the perfect time to take stock of your situation again, with specific focus on how you’re managing your mental health, especially while you’re studying.
The World Health Organization recommends a few ways to take care of your mental health while staying at home. Here are a few tips:
You don’t need to be 100% productive 100% of the time
Unless you already worked or studied full-time from home, you’ve been through a significant shift in your daily routine. Even if you have, your non-work/non-home activities have most likely been canceled or postponed. While many may think that being able to work from your home may help with productivity, everyone’s home situation is different. It is okay — and completely normal — to not be at 100% all the time. This goes for studying too: as you have likely already experienced, some of your regular study routines don’t quite fit in with your home situation in the same way they worked with your former study situation. Make sure to give yourself some extra time to learn and review material, especially if you have a busy or distracting home situation.
Stay in touch using modern technology
Psychologically, the isolation that you or your friends/family members may be facing can lead in part to stress, anxiety, and potentially depression. Just because you can’t always meet up with friends or family in person doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch digitally. For parents or grandparents this could pose a challenge; however, there are simple solutions and simply calling on the phone to catch up can brighten not only their, but also your, day and improve your spirits. The same goes for working with your classmates: study groups are fairly easily moved to an online setting, and you can even use the same video conferencing platforms for a virtual social evening as well.
Streamline your studying
Beyond conducting virtual study groups, there are many other online-based resources for medical students. Perhaps a YouTube video will help you better understand the Krebs Cycle, or an online flashcard deck like Anki will help you study for pharmacology. Regardless of whether you need to pass anatomy or study for the USMLE Step 1, finding an all-in-one study resource or a combination of a few can help focus your studies and enhance your understanding. Pre-made flashcards will save you time, video lectures can explain topics differently than your professors, and online Qbanks prepare you for practice with clinical case questions. Find a resource that works for you and your study style, and stick to it!
Unplug and find time truly for yourself
On a seemingly opposite note, taking time for yourself also makes an impact on your overall mental health. Even when you’re staying at home, the pressures of staying digitally connected still exist. Sometimes your brain needs a break from major stimulants, such as people and technology. Use this time to relax, (re)discover a hobby, reflect, and rejuvenate yourself so you can be at your best, whatever that is right now. Medical school in particular is extremely challenging and requires a lot of work and seemingly constant concentration. Taking time for yourself and a break from studying will also allow your brain to commit the information you’ve recently learned to memory, which is essential for your success in med school and beyond.
Set your own schedule
Whether you’re studying medicine, literature, or are working in a job that has turned your kitchen table into an office space, maintaining as much of a regular routine as possible can help you manage your time and stress levels. If you’re more of a morning person, get up early and get in a small workout or enjoy your breakfast before you hit the books. If you’re more of a night owl, this may be the opportune time to be your most productive at the time in which you are most productive. Just make sure you’re able to complete tasks on time and/or attend virtual class meetings when necessary.
Seek professional guidance or help
Keeping yourself informed regarding the latest updates on the virus and about the latest local rules and regulations in your town or city is important — but it can also be emotionally draining and cause stress. You’re not the only one struggling — the lives of everyone on the planet have been somehow impacted by COVID-19, whether directly or indirectly. Even if you are an aspiring medical professional yourself or already working in the field, you can and should also turn to other professionals when needed.
Maintaining your mental health while working and/or studying from home isn’t easy — especially right now. But you’re not the only person experiencing the frustrations, ups and downs, and strain that comes from these unprecedented times. Keep your head up and take care of yourself.