July 27, 2014

Coping with Admissions Anxiety - Strategy #1

Rob Humbracht

Pre-meds are pretty amazing people.  They accomplish more in a day than most college students do in a week.  They have so many positive traits: they're organized, motivated, Type A, and selfless.  One trait that contributes to this productivity but often gets pre-meds in trouble is anxiety.

Anxiety and being pre-med go together like two atoms in an ionic bond.  And now that teens are the most stressed-out age group in the United States, it's time to take the problem of anxiety seriously.  It will follow you through medical school, causing a spike in the suicide rate among medical students.  It will follow you as you become a doctor, contributing to burnout in your future career.

Of course, all of this anxiety comes to a head during the admissions process.  All of your self-doubt about whether you have what it takes races through your brain as you put yourself on display in your application.   Applications also involve quick turnarounds, high-stakes exams, relying on other people to submit great letters on your behalf, and other tasks that are inherently stressful, regardless of whether you are prone to anxiety attacks.

It's important to tackle anxiety head on.  The good news is that if you take the following advice to heart, it will help alleviate your anxiety.  I've seen it work for my MCAT students back in the day coping with the anxiety leading up to their test.  And I've seen it work for my students during the application process.

Strategy #1 - You're Not Alone

It's normal to be stressed out as a pre-med.  You're taking a rigorous course load.  You don't have much time just for yourself.  You're surrounded by competitive people who are incredibly talented and who often seem to have everything perfectly together.  In this environment, it's easy to forget that you're not alone.

The truth is, whether pre-meds show it or not, most are anxious, just like you.  Most worry whether they will be able to handle the workload, and wonder whether they have what it takes to be a doctor.

Knowing that we're not alone can alleviate some of the anxiety we're feeling.  How do we reinforce this idea?

1. Find an ally.  Reach out to friends who are going through the admissions process or who have already gone through it.  Talk to them about how you're feeling and hear what they have to say.  Of course, picking the right people to share these feelings with is crucial.  Many pre-meds - you know the ones - will just make you feel worse about yourself.  But connecting with a key ally who can talk you down when you need it can do wonders toward making you feel less stressed.

2. Read a good book on how others have successfully dealt with anxiety.  You're not the first person on the planet to feel this way.  There are many tricks buried in the pages of psychology literature on coping with anxiety.  Learn to use them.

3.  Find a friend who's totally disconnected from the application process or, even better, from the pre-med world.  The purpose here is to remind you that being pre-med is not the only world that exists.  Spending time with a good friend can ground you, and when you return to the stressful application process, you'll remember that you're not alone in your application struggle.

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