Caroline Porch, PY1
Recently, I realized something very clearly about pharmacy school: we pharmacy students need stress outlets. Sounds simple and easy to remember but, strangely enough, it’s so easy to forget to take care of yourself in high stress environments. They told us this at orientation, but I – and likely many others – thought, “Well of course I’m going to be sure to take care of myself and do well in school.” Personally, I have not been participating in stress-relieving activities quite as much as I value them. Spending 20 minutes a day doing something relaxing seems reasonable, and since we usually work on assignments over the weekend, I reasoned that 20 minutes a day times six days a week, or two hours a week for stress outlets, was important for our mental, emotional and physical health.
As I found out via survey to the PY1 class, most of my class feels that in an average week, they experience high levels of stress. A majority of them also responded that stress outlets are critically important. What I was most curious to see was about half of my class indulges in stress-relieving outlets less than two hours a week. I would have definitely fallen under that category if you had asked me three weeks ago in the midst of three massive tests in one week.
So, what are effective stress outlets? Well, spending time with friends and family is an obvious one. However, since friends and family aren’t always available (especially during the week), I recently started looking for other methods to channel that stress in healthy ways. After some research and putting these things to use, here are some of the top stress outlets that have been working for me. Since they are not that time-consuming, these are easy for any student pharmacist:
Although cliché, I’ve always been told it’s a good idea to exercise to relieve stress. After some thought, I realized that when I hear the word “exercise” I’m actually hearing “running.” Some people love to run and do it because it is relaxing for them and can run for miles and miles non-stop. This is not the case for me. I cannot run for more than 30 minutes because I get terribly bored, even with music. I also cannot do it on a consistent schedule, so this year was the first time I’ve been trying other forms of exercise.
Going swimming at the Ole Miss Turner Center pool is one of the new things I’ve tried and it is great way to relieve stress. Swimming actually is the most calorie-burning exercise you can do, and it is easier on your joints than running. Another unique exercise habit that many people benefit from is yoga. Meredith Oliver, a PY2 at Ole Miss, offers “Rx: Yoga” every other Tuesday in the atrium and after attending her class, I feel relaxed and have more energy both physically and mentally.
I challenge you to find some form of exercise that works for you whether it’s biking, taking a group workout class, swimming or simply running. The stress-relieving benefits of exercise will be good for your body and mind.
After researching it, I found that cooking is effective stress therapy that is often overlooked by busy students, because people have this notion that cooking takes hours and who has time for that in pharmacy school?
However, cooking can re-stimulate the senses that stress suppresses. Since you control what goes into your meal, it is usually healthier to cook rather than eat out. As far as a stress outlet, it can actually be fun to learn how to create good meals and when you eat good food, you feel better and are likely to be less stressed.
Finding quick and easy recipes is easier than ever with the Internet and hundreds of recipes at our fingertips. While I am by no means the next Rachel Ray, and this method was not as successful for me as I imagined, I encourage you to try your own recipes for yourselves and see how getting your mind off of the normal routine of pharmacy school and stimulating your senses by cooking can be therapeutic.
This is a quick way to relieve stress and has always been one of my favorite forms of stress outlets. One of the hallmarks of positive psychology is writing what you are grateful for just a few minutes in the morning and at night, which improves overall happiness and satisfaction.
Instead of waking up and checking your email or social media first thing, try writing when you first wake up. If you can get into this routine, you can write what you want to accomplish in the coming day, what you are grateful for and one affirming comment about yourself.
Just a few minutes each day has made a big difference in my stress levels, and hopefully it can for you too! Venting is great and necessary at times, but this isn’t a sustainable method of stress relief. It’s important to write down your frustrations as an outlet and may be more effective for relationships, rather than bringing down your friends and family members with the negativity of daily stresses.
Doing Something Creative
Pharmacy school requires our brains to be in logical, analytical and critical thinking mode almost all day. Personally, this can be a huge source of stress to always be using that brainpower to work though problems. Using the creative sides of our brains produces balance and doing something creative to get out of that analytical mode can be soothing and effective in lowering stress.
Painting, playing an instrument, playing games and building things can unlock that creative flow that relaxes us and be helpful in developing more creative problem solving strategies. For example, I like to play games each day – especially the Sudoku puzzles in the Daily Mississippian and Tetris on the computer. While these are brain-exercising activities, they are disguised in game form and help relax me when I feel stressed.
Another effective and therapeutic activity I’ve started enjoying is painting. Paints, brushes and canvases are not expensive at all and a quick trip to the local Michael’s or Walmart can have you set. Pinterest is a great resource for beginner painters and has step-by-step how to’s for painting faces, landscapes, water and tons of other things. You don’t have to be Picasso to benefit from the relaxing effects of painting.
Spending just a few minutes a day letting your mind take a break and get creative is beneficial to your overall mental health, and you might even find a new hobby in the process.
Reading for Fun
After the first day of Dr. Alicia Bouldin’s communications class where she collected information about us, it was obvious that the PY1 class is a class of readers. Summer had us reading things like “The Hobbit,” “The Hunger Games” series, “Go Set a Watchman” and many more. While I had so much more free time and opportunities to read over the summer, that has drastically changed being in pharmacy school, and it is rare that I sit down to read for relaxation.
Since I began looking for new stress outlets, I’ve found that if I’m not able to fall asleep due to stress, fiction is – in the words of Tim Ferriss – better than any sleeping pill! Fortunately, many books are conducive for short periods of reading so that in our spare 20 minutes, we can read until we arrive at a good stopping point. Again, when we are so accustomed to reading about chemicals, medicine and the human body in textbook-like language, diving into a novel can create an escape.
Pharmacy school does not have to be so hard on us mentally if we are taking good care of ourselves. These methods of stress relief have been working well for me since I embraced the idea that finding stress outlets is critical to my well-being as a pharmacy student. I’m confident that the benefits of implementing just 20 minutes of any of these activities a day can lower my class’ weekly stress levels and hopefully outweigh any advantage an extra 20 minutes of studying could have. The key is to find your niche and I encourage you to participate in something that works for you as an applicable stress outlet.