Mental Health Resiliency – Tips for UK Medical Students
By Steven Smith, PhD
Mental Health Resiliency—Tips for UK Medical Students
Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and to bounce back from difficult life events. Research has shown that while some people are naturally more resilient than others, resilience can be learned and practiced. Increasing our resilience acts as a buffer during challenging times, enabling us to cope with stress more effectively.
Whether you’re going through a tough time now or you want to be prepared for the next one, here are 10 strategies you can utilize to foster greater resilience.
1) Develop a strong social network. Isolation is not your friend because we are wired for social connection. It’s very important to nurture and develop connections with others. Those social bonds provide a source of support, helping to protect us from slipping into anxiety or depression during challenging times. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
2) Practice gratitude. Writing down 3 things you are grateful for each day trains the mind to focus on what you have, rather than what might be lacking. Research shows that people who practice being grateful show significantly higher levels of happiness and psychological well-being. Intentionally being grateful helps us to savor life’s joys by amplifying and focusing on the abundance in our lives.
3) Acknowledge your successes. You have accomplished so much already or you would not have made it to medical school. It’s easy to brush away small successes and to rush to the next challenge in your path. However, every step counts and quiet confidence is built when you allow yourself to see your history of successes as evidence that you can reach the goals you set in life. Make it a point to celebrate your every accomplishment and each successful step you take along the way.
4) Practice self-compassion. Most people are harder on themselves than they are on others. Medical school is challenging enough without you adding to the load with self-judgment. We all fall short at times and are often disappointed when we do. However, compassion allows for imperfection and is an aspect of self-care. You can support yourself by compassionately accepting your limitations and directing your attention to your strengths.
5) Connect with nature. When you get a chance, get outside and take in the beauty that surrounds you. Listen to the birds, admire the cloud-filled sky, and be in awe of the amazing natural world. Connecting with nature is a very grounding experience that can recharge our depleted energy reservoirs. Because our senses are engaged when outdoors, it naturally brings us into the present and gives our mind and nervous system a much-needed break.
6) Put bumper guards on your screen time. It can be very tempting to use your down time scrolling on a phone or pad. However, the constant stimulation that screens provide do not give you the off ramp that you need when taking a break. Set limits on your use of social media and use an app that will show you how much time you are giving to recreational screen time. Once you know, then decide how much time you are willing to give to your screens and set firm boundaries to honor what you know works best for you.
7) Focus on what’s within your control. Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. Putting your efforts where you can have the most impact increases confidence, whereas worrying about uncontrollable events is a recipe for powerlessness. In the end, what we have the most control over is our reaction to what happens to us. When we manage how we respond to what comes our way, we feel empowered and experience a greater sense of control.
8) Maintain a positive focus. Try to notice what is working in your life. Optimists and pessimists are looking at the same world, but their focus is vastly different. It’s important to visualize what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear as you move toward your goals. By maintaining a positive focus in the present and a hopeful view of the future, you ward off negative thoughts work against your sense of well-being.
9) Be present. Regularly engage in an activity that brings you in touch with the here and now. This can be done with numerous mindfulness exercises, meditation, mindful breathing, yoga, prayer, and other practices that orient you to the present.
10) Practice self-care. When stress creeps in, good habits often creep out, and it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Eating poorly, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are common reactions when feeling overwhelmed. Strengthening your body with proper care can help it to adapt to stress and reduce the toll of energy-depleting emotions like anxiety or depression.
Written by Sandra Hough, Ph.D. and Steven, Smith, Ph.D. with The Woodland Group. The Woodland Group provides counseling for all University of Kentucky medical students and this service is free. If you need additional support at any time, please utilize this resource by calling 859-255-4864.