Stress Management 4 Helping the Stressed-Out Student

scott's thoughts Aug 08, 2023

Welcome back. We have been focusing our newsletters on stress in graduate medical students and how to assist your cohorts with developing self-care behaviors that will improve their mental and physical health through the rigors of the programs. In today’s newsletter, I’ll begin sharing the lessons and techniques we teach students to accomplish this goal.

The first one-hour workshop I recommend is held during Week 5 of the semester and teaches students how to develop a self-care plan. These pointers will be as helpful for faculty and administration as for students!

Developing a Self-Care Plan

When did you last do something enjoyable because it felt great? 

Self-care activities are:

  • Done deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health
  • Actively initiating a method to promote holistic wellbeing

It works best if you practice both:

  1. Self-awareness: the ongoing observation and attunement to your experience, including risk factors and warning signs for challenges to psychological wellness (e.g., distress, problems with professional competence, burnout, secondary traumatic stress)
  2. Self-regulation: regular use of self-care practices and techniques integrated into your life

Graduate students who engage in self-care demonstrate increased self-compassion, decreased psychological distress, and increased life satisfaction.

Within many approaches and strategies, there is no single way to implement self-care into one’s life. Self-care is meant to be individualistic, and there is no right or wrong way of applying it. What researchers stress most is consistency with the implementation of self-care. One must consistently employ various potential strategies for overall personal and professional benefit.

The many faces of self-care

Focusing solely on mental health while ignoring your body’s physical health would be detrimental; diving headlong into physical exercise while ignoring your emotions and personal relationships is counterintuitive. Therefore, pay attention to all aspects of your life.


  • Involves attending to the physical needs and care of your body.
  • Includes adequate levels of sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
  • Regular medical and dental exams are essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


  • Participate in hobbies or activities that are relaxing or stress-reducing. These are tied to your individual interests, including journaling, meditating, reading, music, painting, cooking, etc.
  • Learn relaxation techniques
  • Practice self-acceptance and self-compassion
  • Use mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Seek peer support
  • Go to counseling/psychotherapy. Personal psychotherapy can serve as a valuable self-care strategy of both preventative and reparative means for the personal and professional stresses and challenges you will experience in graduate school. Reasons to seek counseling include personal growth, adjustment or developmental issues, or depression.


  • This involves personal social relationships, including romantic partners, family, friends, and pets.
  • Remember: quality over quantity! This is not about gathering “likes” but trusting mutually satisfying relationships.


Stress can be greatly relieved by a sense of connection with a force transcendent of one’s self, such as nature, the universe, or God. Examples include but certainly aren’t limited to prayer, attending religious services, meditation/daily mindfulness practices, and even walks in nature to appreciate beauty.


Self-care isn’t just for the evening and weekends.

  • Establish appropriate limits and boundaries with your school and professional work
  • Create realistic expectations to help maintain a degree of control over your work and reduce the likelihood of problems with professional competence
  • Schedule breaks in your day
  • Reserve time for lunch
  • Take vacations
  • Use time management and avoid procrastination

Tips for developing a self-care plan

  • Select which areas of self-care you will begin with.
    • Don’t aim for perfection.
    • Consider what areas of self-care require the most attention, are the most important to you, or have been neglected.
  • Personalize your self-care plan.
    • Be creative
    • Be open to changes
  • Put the plan into action.
    • Start small.
    • Don’t give up!

Self-care's overall goal is always to promote your psychological wellness and effective functioning. While commitment to practicing self-care is important, self-care is never meant to be another obligation, obstacle, or unenjoyable experience. Approach self-care with an attitude of patience. Understand that it is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Talk to others for ideas regarding self-care practices and support for your plan.


The categories above list several methods that can be used to improve stress management. Students attending this workshop are informed of the follow-up workshop, where we will describe and teach those stress-management techniques. For you readers, you need only join me in our following newsletter. I will see you then!


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