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  • Are You Stressed? How to Cope

    Breathing exercises are an excellent way to release the tension and give self a sense of calmness. Short and long term physical and emotional health can be improved with breathing techniques. In addition to relaxation, breathing exercise can help prevent fatigue and improve overall health.

    In an article on, there are simple breathing techniques that you can follow. Read the entire article here

    Here are a few other stress relieving techniques that may help busy medical students:

    1) Visualization: Picture yourself getting an 'A' on the exam or finishing that paper. These techniques help you calm down and prepare for success. 
    In one notable study that appeared in the North American Journal of Psychology in 2007, athletes who mentally practiced a hip-flexor exercise had strength gains that were almost as significant as those in people who actually did the exercise (five times a week for 15 minutes) on a weight machine.

    2) Exercise: You've heard this a thousand times but it's true. Exercise helps boost the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. So take a walk, go to a yoga class, grab a friend and play tennis!

    3) Take a nap: Or at least make sure you get enough sleep at night. 

    4) Go to a comedy club or listen to a joke: According to the Mayo Clinic, a good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Long term, negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.

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  • A poem to inspire you

    Let this poem by physican and poet William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) remind you that you have a wonderfully creative left brain as well!

    Young Sycamore
    I must tell you
    this young tree
    whose round and firm trunk
    between the wet

    pavement and the gutter
    (where water
    is trickling) rises

    into the air with
    one undulant
    thrust half its height-
    and then

    dividing and waning
    sending out
    young branches on
    all sides-

    hung with cocoons
    it thins
    till nothing is left of it
    but two

    eccentric knotted
    bending forward
    hornlike at the top


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  • Overnight Oatmeal

    By Melina Benson
    Chair, AMSA Wellness and Student Life 

    I can't tell you how many times I tell patients to eat breakfast, just loud enough to cover my own empty-belly growls. What a hypocrite, right?

    We all know that eating a breakfast with protein improves concentration, curbs cravings for snacks high in fat and sugar (ahem, obligatory tray of doughnuts in the center of the table during rounds), and correlates with a healthy BMI.

    But oh, how hard it is to get up in the morning and put something together! It is so much easier to opt for an overpriced breakfast bar, many of which are packed with sugar, fake fiber and carry a heavy caloric load.

    Here's at least one remedy: Overnight Oatmeal. I believe there is something psychologically satisfying to starting a task that takes time to create itself. I'm thinking along the lines of gardening, brewing your own beer, or marinating meat or vegetables. When I leave a delicious oat mixture to soak overnight, it always helps me get out of bed in the morning.

    To make Banana Berry Overnight Oats:
    1. Mash 1/2 banana into 1 cup low fat cow's, almond or soy milk in a microwave-safe mug or jar
    2. Add 1/2 cup quick-cook oats.
    3. Add 1/4 cup dried fruits, frozen or fresh berries
    4. Dash vanilla extract
    5. Dash salt
    6. Mix it up, cover with cellophane, leave in fridge.
    7. The next morning, microwave for 2 minutes and enjoy!

    Other options: add 1 tsp honey or agave nectar, chia seeds, ground flax or nuts. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Be creative!

    For more overnight oats recipes, check out:

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  • How Mindfulness is Changing My Life

    By Caitlin McFarland, 
    Webinar Coordinator, AMSA Wellness & Student Life Action Committee

    You are not the voice in your head.

    This line from The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer has been with me for the past month. I am a person prone to low self confidence and am intensely critical of my work, my choices and myself. While these tendencies have spurred me onto excellence in my professional life as a research technician, once I started medical school, an atmosphere of high competition and intense evaluation, the neurotic self criticism that worked for me in the past has, at times, become over-the-top and debilitating. The invitation to take a step back and reevaluate my critical “self talk” did not come a moment too soon as I immerse myself in studying for Step 1.

    In the tradition of mindfulness and meditation, Singer, a longtime practitioner of yoga and meditation, encourages the reader to recognize that there is a running dialogue in their minds at all times and to view themselves as separate from the dialogue: In short, to view themselves as the ear to that dialogue rather than the mouth. Throughout the book, Singer gradually offers the reader tools to become more objective about the constant inner commentary and to observe themselves labeling experiences as “positive” or “negative”, recognizing that the labels we give experiences are drawn from our past experiences. Among these tools is simply “self-observation”; stilling yourself and listening to the mental chatter, paying attention to it and more importantly, paying attention to what it is saying.

    I have tried to practice this for the past week since I started reading Singer’s book and caught myself catastrophizing a low score on a practice qbank question block (“I haven’t learned anything- how will I ever pass the boards?”). This kind of mental statement is perhaps my way of motivating myself to shape up and hit the books, but in the moment I felt paralyzed and hopeless. If the assertion that I haven’t learned anything in medical school, shouldn’t I give up now?

    The point is that what we tell ourselves is not always true. If I had a friend who told me some of the things I tell myself, they would be out the door ASAP!

    So my Wellness Wednesday challenge to you this week is to take a moment to really “hear” what you are telling yourself. Then reflect on it. Question it. If you, like me, are your own worst critic, this awareness might be the first step toward getting out of your own way.

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  • Medical Students and Mental Health

    We’ve talked a lot about coping with stress on Wellness Wednesdays. The AAMC recently published an article that uses some startling numbers to give credence to our assumption that you all are stressed! They note that while the mental health profiles of students entering medical school are similar to those of college students, many end up dealing with a mental illness during their four years. To make things worse, the most depressed among us are the least likely to reach out for help given the stigma.

    Another factoid gleaned from a 2005 NEJM article was that the suicide rates among physicians is higher than the general population: 40% higher for males, and 130% higher for females.

    The AAMC highlights three medical schools that are countering this known phenomenon with school-wide curricular implementations from year one. Read on to find out what Creighton, St. Louis, and Vanderbilt University Schools of Medicine are doing as a service to their students. Could this work at your school?

    To hear more, join us next Monday for the first day of Health Equity Week of Action (HEWA). At noon on Monday, January 20th, Michael Kavan, PhD, will lead a webinar to discuss mental health issues among medical and pre-medical students! Log on here

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