Your diet, physical activity, rest, and sleep are important components of self-care.
Guidelines: You learn the macro and micronutrients in medical school in Biochemistry or Nutrition class. Remember you would benefit from applying what you learned in your own life. Reviewing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA, 2015), which is intended for health professionals can refresh your knowledge on nutrition and give you reference points for evaluating your own diet.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov
Guidelines: Review the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS, 2018). Adults need at least:
- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week – OR – 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week
- Muscle-strengthening on 2 or more days/week of all muscle groups
External Resource: Strength and Flex exercise plan from the UK’s NHS. Equipment-free exercises, downloadable podcasts, plus how-to video clips)
Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Off Dis Prev Health Promot. 2018.
Rest and Reset
Rest and relaxation are critical components of managing emotions and recovering from physically demanding work. Yoga and deep breathing are two ways to intentionally relax and reset your body from stress responses.
Deep Breathing and Unplugging
Controlled breathing can be used to reduce physiological stress effects and cultivate mindfulness. Diaphragmatic breathing, also called “belly breathing”, is particularly good at reducing the effects of stress. It can be used as a quick coping response and may be more relaxing than checking your phone every time you get a break. To help with that, here’s a suggested method for relaxing:
Lie on your back on a break room sofa. Put your phone on your belly and slowly breathe in to the count of 4, watching and feeling the phone rise, then let it down slowly as you breathe out to the count of 4. Repeat 4 times. Once you practice this a few times, try the same belly breathing while sitting or standing without the phone. This is a small break you can use almost anywhere that will help re-set your body from stress responses you may have experienced.
Yoga decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Katuri, 2016). Regular practice results in less stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression (Katuri, 2016; Michalsen, 2005; Smith, 2007). In recent years, many medical centers offer yoga classes as part of programs to build well-being among medical staff.
External Resource: Brief Chair Yoga Exercise:
3 Minute Chair Yoga Sequence (Video) By Colleen Saidman Yee, author of Yoga for Life, 2015, Simon & Schuster, Atria Books.
Katuri KK, Dasari AB, Kurapati S, Vinnakota NR, Bollepalli AC, Dhulipalla R. Association of Yoga Practice and Serum Cortisol Levels in Chronic Periodontitis Patients with Stress-Related Anxiety and Depression. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016;6(1):7-14. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.175404. PMCID: PMC4784068. PMID: 27011926.
Michalsen A, Grossman P, Acil A, et al. Rapid Stress Reduction and Anxiolysis among Distressed Women as a Consequence of a Three-Month Intensive Yoga Program. Med Sci Monit. December 2005;11(12):CR555-561. PMID: 16319785.
Get Adequate Sleep
Tips from the AMA Medical Student News on Sleep: Advice for a med student’s must-have—a sound night’s sleep: By news writer Brendan Murphy, Medical School Life, AMA website, Feb 26, 2018. Describes research on quantity and quality of sleep in medical students that found nearly the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night on average but high rates of sleep quality problems as evident in high rates of drowsiness (Ayala et al. 2017).
Other Tips on Sleep:
- Use good study habits (see Work-Life Balance) rather than all-night study sessions as a way to cope with the large amount you have to learn. It just goes into your short-term memory when you cram it in by staying up all night. Remember, you are not just getting through a class; you are preparing for a career as a professional.
- As a medical student, you learn the importance of sleep for health and brain functioning. Be sure to get the recommended 7-8 hours per night to keep your brain functioning at its best.
Research Article: Sleep-Deprived Human Brain (Krause et al., 2017) Review how sleep deprivation has a negative effect on working memory, positive and negative emotion, and hippocampal learning.
Guidelines: Recommendations for sleep amount for adults from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS) are (Watson, 2015):
- 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
- 9 or more hours may be needed by young adults, people with illness, and those recovering from sleep debt.
Ayala EE, Berry R, Winseman JS, Mason HR. A Cross-Sectional Snapshot of Sleep Quality and Quantity Among US Medical Students. Acad Psychiatry. October 2017;41(5):664-668. doi:10.1007/s40596-016-0653-5. PMID: 28091977.
Krause E, Simon E, Mander B. The sleep-deprived human brain. 18(7); 2017. Nat Rev Neurosci.