Stress: a word that may be all too familiar in dental school. It can be our worst enemy and sometimes very hard to cope with. With the pressure of exams, competencies, deadlines and the constant game of playing catch-up, feeling stressed is often too well known to a dental student. It is important for us to maintain solid mental health to tackle all of the challenges of dental school and make clear, focused clinical choices. One way to do so is to be active and maintain strong physical health.
It has been supported in physical and psychological research studies that doing as little as 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise can greatly improve your mood and anxiety for several hours. This might be exactly what’s needed to keep motivated and focused. Personally, I have learned to apply this mantra to my dental school schedule and I will never look back!
In the beginning of dental school, I found it hard to keep up with the rigorous studying schedules while also trying to get enough sleep. I struggled to find the energy to do it over again the next day. Given all of the assignments and extracurricular activities, the thought of squeezing something else into the day seemed impossible. Between library all-nighters and late-night lab work, when and how could I manage time at our campus gym or go for a power walk? However, I knew that a healthy, stress-free and wakeful mind required I make physical activity a priority. To achieve this, I reintroduced exercise into my life by setting half-hour goals of activity. Soon I realized that this little bit of exercise kept me energized and motivated throughout the day. I felt more emotionally centered, more capable of achieving quality sleep, and even found I was more efficient with my time when I sat down to study. Seeing progress, I increased my commitment to exercise throughout the week, and it really has transformed how I approach things. I’m happier with the structure of my schedule and more committed to accomplishing my study goals.
When I say exercise, I don’t necessarily mean pumping iron at the gym (unless of course that is your prerogative, go for it). Exercise can be anything, as long as it gets your blood pumping. Here are a few suggestions I have:
- For someone who doesn’t exercise regularly, start somewhere easy. Park your car further in the school parking lot or do 15 minutes of stretching in between study sets.
- For the adrenaline junkie, obstacle course races, rock-climbing parks and trampoline parks are right up your ally.
- For the adventurer, try exploring the nature reserves, parks, beaches and trails in your area, taking a different route every time.
- For the urban warrior, skip public transport a few stops, and get those feet to the pavement.
- For the dedicated studier, take interval breaks from the books do some lunges or squats in the library stacks.
- For someone just looking for balance and a calm state of mind, try doing some yoga.
Sticking to an exercise routine ensures that I get the physical activity I need to keep mentally fit, perform well in classes and feel great. Try it for yourself and see if you, too, notice a difference mental health.
For more wellness resources and tips, visit ASDAnet.org/wellness.
~Stella Christina Stavrou, Stony Brook ’17