5 minutes a day: Meditating and journaling to help navigate the dental school application cycle

Between balancing coursework, preparing dental school applications and maintaining a social life, it’s inevitable to not feel overwhelmed or stressed. The pandemic has exacerbated challenges with our physical health, while also amplifying many academic, mental and social challenges. During this uncertain time, I struggled to maintain a positive attitude as my mental health started to spiral. I felt depressed, lacked the motivation to complete my schoolwork and spent hours mindlessly scrolling through my phone. It wasn’t until I listened to a mindfulness podcast about the power of meditation that I realized I should regularly reflect on my day to regain control over my mental state. Meditating and journaling for at least five minutes daily allowed me to build a routine that prioritized my mental health and encouraged me to start my day with an optimistic mindset. 

What is mediation? 

Meditation is a mindfulness practice that requires patience and a clear mind. You are simply taking time to clear any mental chaos. There are two easy steps to get started:

  1. Find a quiet space. Get comfortable, then close your eyes. Relax your body.
  2. Focus on your breathing. Try to clear your mind completely, inhale and then exhale. Your mind will get distracted, but don’t let that discourage you. Acknowledge the presence of the thoughts and then continue focusing on your breathing. 

It is recommended to meditate at the same time every day to instill the habit and slowly incorporate the activity into your routine. I recommend starting by lying comfortably on your bed with dim lighting to create a calm atmosphere. It will be easy to incorporate meditating into your routine in this position, as it mimics preparing for bedtime. I have found that meditating for about five minutes when I wake up and before I go to bed has allowed me to gain clarity for the day and relax my mind before bed.

Several studies have shown links between meditation and improved mental state, stress, and anxiety reduction. Researchers also have found that people who meditate for at least 15-20 minutes over four months reported lower levels of stress and burnout compared to their counterparts.

Why journal? 

Journaling can help reduce stress and build your communication skills. During application season, journaling is a great way to organize your thoughts and concerns; that way, you don’t displace any frustration you are experiencing onto a friend or family member. The journal can also serve as a way to hold yourself accountable by creating a space where you set personal goals and are reminded of them the next time you check-in with yourself. As predentals, we accomplish so much in just one day but tend to overlook our hard work. By journaling, we can celebrate our everyday accomplishments by reflecting on even one positive moment or success of the day. An easy way to start journaling is to grab a notebook you may already have lying around or purchase a journal with guided prompts and other tools designed to reduce stress and provide daily motivation.

While journaling and meditating might not seem like obvious ways to help prepare for the upcoming dental application cycle, they are beneficial. By journaling, you can keep track of hobbies and interests that make you stand out and brainstorm talking points for your interviews. Additionally, if you are shadowing a dentist, you can jot down procedures that stuck out to you, something significant you learned, enjoyed or even disliked. This method can help you better recall the learning experience or use it as a refresher before interviews. You can also use your journal to help inspire your personal statement by keeping track of your personal experiences, relationships and values that influenced your growth as an individual and your passion for dentistry.

Meditating, however, can allow you to reduce any application-related anxiety, limit imposter syndrome and prevent you from comparing yourself to other applicants. It is easy to compare ourselves to others, especially when looking at social media or dental student blogs. However, it is key to remember everyone’s journey is different and comparison is the thief of joy. Good luck to all the predentals applying in the upcoming cycle! 

~Maryum Cheema, Lafayette College ‘21

Maryum Cheema

Maryum Cheema is a senior at Lafayette College, majoring in biology and minoring in anthropology and sociology. She is a first-generation student from Bronx, New York, who is in the process of applying to dental school.

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