Let’s face it: the life of a medical student has never exactly been easy. After all, you are training to enter one of the most important, but also one of the most stressful and demanding, professions in the world.
You’re learning not only to save lives but also to make those lives better. You are working to become a source of hope and strength to your future patients and the people who love them.
That’s a lot of weight to put on one person’s shoulders. But you do it because you know that there is no better way to spend your life than in the service of others.
Still, though, you are only human. And to thrive as a caregiver means that, first, you must learn to care for yourself. Journaling is an incredibly powerful way to do that. This article will show you how to incorporate journaling into your daily life — and why you should!
If you were asked to come up with a list of words to describe medical school, chances are the adjective stressful would top most people’s lists. You’re not only being asked to master massive quantities of formidably dense material in short periods, but you’re also having to learn the caring aspect of your profession. You’re becoming not just a scientist but also a healer. You’re developing into both a clinician and a caregiver.
And as rewarding as that may be, it can also bring with it a tremendous amount of worry and anxiety. That is where journalling comes in. You might not always be able to “vent” to friends and family. There may be challenges you don’t feel comfortable sharing, at least not until you’ve sorted out your feelings in your own heart and mind. Your journal can quickly become your best friend and greatest secret keeper, the repository of those emotions you can’t or don’t want to share with others at present.
A Little Clarity
To be sure, journaling helps you release the frustrations, the fears, the disappointments, and the hurts of the day. Putting your thoughts, feelings, and experiences into words is critical to gaining perspective. And with perspective come clarity and a greater sense of control, something that can feel sorely lacking when you’re under pressure, facing brutal hours, and working and studying from morning until night.
For example, many students now in the medical field are facing the painful choice between continuing their studies or answering the call of patients in crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak, not only have many schools transitioned to online learning platforms, but the demand for healthcare workers has reached virtually unprecedented levels.
You may be experiencing a hiatus in your studies as you do battle on the frontlines of the pandemic. Or you may find yourself trying to balance COVID caregiving with the unfamiliar terrain of online learning. Whatever your particular situation, as a health student, you’re navigating particularly challenging times in the face of COVID and you’re likely contending with choices, and obstacles, you could never have anticipated. Journaling can be a terrific tool to help you make it through these COVID times with your health, sanity, and career goals intact.
The Practical Side
The benefits of journaling for medical students, though, extend even beyond the positive effects on your emotional and mental wellbeing. There are some pretty significant practical applications as well.
As a medical student, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the role that the body’s circadian rhythm plays in physical and mental health. You are also likely very aware of the havoc that your own erratic and often vicious work and study cycles play on your circadian rhythm — your sleep patterns in particular.
While the nature of your work might not give you many options when it comes to establishing a more regular and healthful sleep schedule, though, you can still use journaling to support healthier and more refreshing sleep. Journaling before sleep has been shown to dramatically improve the quality and consistency of your rest, helping you to purge negative emotions, quiet anxiety, and feel more relaxed in general.
Additionally, whatever your particular area of medical study, you probably have some amount of student loan debt. Journaling about your finances will not only help you to manage your money anxiety, but it can also better equip you to make sound financial decisions. For instance, you might use your journal to explore your options for refinancing, even if you have bad credit, or otherwise manage your student debt in the way that best meets your personal, professional, and financial goals.
Another practical benefit to journaling is the preparation it provides for the next stage of your career. Health students need to be able to demonstrate in writing their capacity to reflect on their experiences in the field and how they intend to use these experiences to become a better clinician and caregiver in the future.
How to Begin
For all the myriad benefits of journaling, perhaps the best news is how easy and adaptable it is. There’s no right or wrong way to journal, so you can find the method that works best for you. It might involve sitting down in front of the laptop in the morning to spend 10 minutes creating a gratitude journal or a list of goals for the day. Or it could mean 30 minutes at night with pen and paper, jotting down your reflections on the day.
What matters most are consistency and commitment. It may not always feel easy at first, but if you make an effort to integrate journaling into your daily routine, it will soon become a habit. And once it becomes a habit, you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits we’ve described above — and even more!
As a student and future healthcare provider, you have a lot on your plate. You might feel that daily journaling is a demand on your time that you simply cannot afford. The reality, however, is that the benefits of journaling far outweigh the costs. From the emotional and psychological effects to the pragmatic benefits, just ten minutes a day spent journaling can significantly increase the quality of your life.
Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She writes about a variety of topics and spends her free time gardening.