Day 242: Feeling overwhelmed

Today’s inane image of the day:

This salad was a wonderful surprise — adding fruit seems to make everything look and taste so much better!

Similar to the end of the Fall semester, the end of this semester is jam-packed with exams, assessments and assignments. I wish I could say that my many years of experience with this end-of-the-term-phenomenon prepared me to tackle this last month and a half with poise — but the reality of medicine is that you cannot really predict how things will be until they are. Being someone who likes to feel in control of any and all situations… this is a terrifying position to be in.

Alas, I have adapted over the course of the year. Medical school seems to send you into a perpetual state of feeling overwhelmed — it feels like you increase your threshold for stress and studying exponentially as you spend more time in medicine. Even though I’m used to this, school is still challenging. At times, it feels like being dropped off at Mt. Everest and told that you have to make it to the top; although we’re inexperienced amateur, we were selected because a committee decided that we are capable of scaling this challenge called medical education.

Being conditioned to handle stress doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments of doubt. Often, the following questions creep up in my mind: How will I memorize all of this material? How will I have enough time for all of my extracurricular commitments? Will I have the strength to get through this all? And then I reflect upon the trials and tribulations of the last academic year, and I feel accomplished. Our class has made it this far — we will make it through the last month and a half!

In the meantime, the only way to really address feeling overwhelmed is to actually do stuff [nothing compares to the satisfaction and relief of seeing the checkmarks next to a bunch of completed tasks!]. At this point, we have PMH and Capstone assignments due in the coming weeks in addition to keeping up with Respiratory lecture material. Then there’s that whole trying not to gain 20 lbs from eating junk food [Sweet Onion Kettle chips for the win], coffee beverages [if that warm weather would just come back for a visit I could start drinking Frappuccinos again…mmm], consuming inordinate amounts of energy drinks [I’ll be honest — Red Bull is my drink of choice; 5 hour energy = flushing, Monster = too much liquid] and Lunch and Learn food [yeah, uhh cheesy pizza and oily mac and cheese are not conducive to maintaining a healthy weight]. Additionally, I seem to have taken on a number of extracurricular commitments that require some serious time management on my part to maintain [e.g. AMWA elections are around the corner — eek!].

Anyway, look forward to future entries on trying to stay healthy, commuting, stress relief and anything else that pops into my mind!

Day 209: The digital world is a huge distraction

Today’s inane image of the day:

If only this photo could show just how worn down my keyboard is… 

The problem: internet/technology is a huge distraction and time warp
More and more, I’m finding that the urge to check my phone or computer for the latest updates on Facebook, Twitter or my favorite blogs is impossible to overcome. I always tell myself that I’m going to close my laptop and switch my phone to silent while I study, but when the inevitable need to look up an unfamiliar term or find a better explanation for a concept comes up, so does my laptop cover. At that point, I decide that it can’t hurt to check up on at least one of my favorite sites for updates… only to find that an hour has been wasted on the latest from my Facebook news feed or refreshing my Google Reader for new updates from Wayfaringmd or Dr. Grumpy.

This is what our generation grew up with
When my family got our first computer, I remember spending every evening tinkering around the settings, instant messaging my friends that I had seen only an hour prior, or discovering the infinite depths of the internet. The world was literally at our finger tips… all we had to do was apply pressure to a specific pattern of keystrokes and we could get the latest news, relearn how to knit, or even figure out how others were getting into medical school. Anyway, the point is that as I matured, so did the internet and the technology that can be used to access it… making it something that our generation grew up with.

A semi-recent study shows that the current generation would rather text rather than talk — admittedly, I fall into this category because many times it’s more convenient to do so [imagine sitting in the silent reference room of a library and you have to ask someone you’re studying with a question — definitely more appropriate to use instant messaging/text] or the question is so small that it wouldn’t warrant a full-blown conversation [are you wearing business casual for tomorrow’s event?]. But in the end, yes, I am more comfortable sending a text rather than chatting over the phone.

An interesting NYT piece, “Growing up digital, wired for distraction” really delves into the issue I’m facing now: “…computers and cell phones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.” This. Exactly. The scariest part of all of this is that medical school doesn’t really forgive these kind of distractions — in order to keep up, we need to find fail-safes to avoid being sucked into the time warp. If we do not overcome this challenge, then we may find ourselves facing more bumps in the road.

What has been done
I’ve considered trying to unplug from everything as one of my favorite physician bloggers, Wendy Sue Swanson [Seattle Mama Doc] did during her online sabbatical, but it isn’t the most realistic thing for me to do at this point [Facebook has been an important medium for our class to exchange important information, alert each other of upcoming deadlines, etc]. Furthermore, I am just starting to discover and gain traction in healthcare social media communities, so leaving would feel a lot like taking two steps backward.

Another way to address the issue is by blocking specific websites for a period of time. One tool I found just by Googling “block sites for studying” is an add-on called “LeechBlock” for the Firefox browser. I don’t use Firefox, so this wouldn’t really help me. On the other hand, the site “Hack my study” contains a browser-specific tutorial for blocking sites. This seems like something I will probably have to use in the future.

Where to go from here?
One of my favorite non-medical blogs, A Cup of Jo [she’s a Michigan native, too!], recently posted this article asking readers if we really are as busy as we think. The idea is that we actually exaggerate how busy we truly are [claiming to work 80 hours, but in reality it’s actually less than 60; claiming to sleep only 6-7 hours/night but really sleeping more than 8, etc] and don’t realize what we are really doing with the 168 hours we have each week. The way to resolve this issue is by keeping a time log — similar to a food log for those of us on diets. From there, it becomes glaringly obvious that a lot of our time isn’t spent on high priority tasks.

Right now, I am not in such a terrible position that I cannot buckle down and study when I need to [yes, I can study for hours without checking my laptop], so I don’t plan on doing a complete online hiatus. On the other hand, I will probably turn to these drastic measures come this time next year when the Boards will be looming. But I do think it might be telling to start a time log [I’m start by trying this program] and assessing where I could optimize my activity. Even if it doesn’t lead to a drastic improvement in time-management, at least it’ll be one way to see how I’m spending my weekly 168 hours. I’ll keep you updated on the numbers.

Do you feel like the digital world is a distraction? What do you do to alleviate the problem?

Day 36: Watching the days slip by

Today’s inane image of the day:

This was taken during my last visit to South Haven, MI during Memorial Day weekend — I really needed something peaceful to look at this morning, so I thought this was fitting.

It just occurred to me this morning that six years ago, today’s date was an important one to me. The date was one that I grew excited and nervous about. But this year, it came out of nowhere — I woke up, ready to crack open the books for some early morning studying, perused my favorite blogs and caught up on Facebook. Upon opening the page, the date finally sunk in.

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