It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but dental students may disagree. Along with final exams and patients stressing you out, holiday traveling and numerous holiday activities might be more stress than you’re ready for. So how do you manage to actually enjoy the holiday break instead of worrying about it?
Stress management requires constant practice and is a lifelong skill. Some students like to take Friday or Saturday nights off of studying, some like to stay in and hang out with friends, and still others just like to have some quiet time to themselves and recharge before the it’s time to hit the books again. Learning which strategy is right for you can be half the battle.
A report from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that people in the US are likely to experience an increase in stress during the holidays as opposed to a decrease. Often dental students can be burdened with studying for board exams over their holiday break or even dealing with patient emergencies. In addition to ASDA’s health & wellness resources, most schools have counselors that can help you find solutions to rein in the holiday stress (for a list of counseling services and associated fees by school, click here). But if you’re in a pinch, here are some strategies recommended by various resources around the Web:
- You’re not alone: Often several of your peers with be dealing with the same stress. Reaching out to fellow classmates and leaning on them for support may help you deal with feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed. Likewise, ask your fellow dental students what works for them. How do they juggle family obligations and school work? You may happen upon a tip that could work to manage your stress too.
- Take time for yourself: Nearly every resource on stress management speaks about self-care. The idea of self-care is all about valuing yourself enough to take the time and energy necessary to take care of yourself. This idea often falls by the wayside in dental school and could be an entire blog post in itself. People who are overextended, or tend towards a caregiving nature, don’t make enough time for themselves and it takes a toll not only on their bodies and emotional health but also on other aspects of their lives. So, by caring for yourself, you can be a better student, a better significant other, friend or family member. Here are some resources on self-care.
- Manage expectations: We’re all dental students and we’re all used to being judged within a millimeter. This attention to detail can extend to other areas of our lives but also hinder our experiences outside the walls of dental school. No holiday celebration is perfect and you can only expect so much of yourself right now when 98% of your time is consumed by dental school. Go into the holidays understanding what you want to achieve–spending time with the family, honoring some traditions–and what just may be out of reach this year (baking 100 cookies for the family get together).
Remembering these points will give you the confidence to carry you through stressful times. However, when anxiety and stress run high it can be hard to think with a clear head. Reassuring yourself in this way may become difficult.
How do you manage stress on the spot? Meditation and deep breathing exercises are notable for immediate stress and tension relief. Find a quiet spot, sit down and close your eyes. For the first couple minutes, become aware of the kinds of thoughts that are in your head. Do not try to block them out, but rather be aware of what they are. Then, begin to focus only on your breathing and let the thoughts that come in your head pass by like cars on a highway. This technique only takes a few minutes and will help you to relax and think clearly. (Here is an article on meditation for the holidays)
It is important to remember that everyone handles stress differently, but ignoring it and expecting it to resolve on its own can be a disaster. The holidays should be a time to relax and celebrate. If you spend some time on self-care and arm yourself with a few of the techniques above, you may just be able to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.
~Kevin Kit, Western ’18
Bonus! Are you stressed out over the gifting aspect of the holidays? ASDA Contributing Editor Mike Mayr, M.A., helps readers navigate how to remind loved ones that they’re buying holiday gifts on loan money in his article “Gifting on a student budget” in November ASDA News.