Today Is Blue Monday. Why stress and resilience are important topics at medical school interviews.

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Yesterday was ‘Blue Monday’ supposedly the most depressing day in the year – originally thought to be the 3rd Monday in January. It was probably first suggested by Cliff Arnail. His equation has six factors:  debt (d), time since Christmas (T), weather (W), low motivational levels (M), the feeling of a need to take action (Na) and time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q).

blue monday equation

However instead of using made-up equations, Upbeat has used the internet.Using a brand new tool called the “Upbeat barometer”, it claims to have analysed millions of tweets over the past three Januarys, via what they call, sentiment analysis. In other words, by picking out negative or positive phrases from tweets, you can assign each day in the month a score based on the number of happy or miserable tweets out there. Their research seems to indicate that it’s not the third Monday of January we should be worried about. Instead, it’s the first week of January that’s the most ‘depressing’ for us especially the  first Monday back at work that’s the worst. Although I am not sure how scientific this all is it certainly seems to fit in what we see as GPs and counsellors seem to be busiest and booked up in January.

Of course stress is not limited to just one day a year. It is just that it seems to peak about now. Christmas often brings us face to face with realities of family life [divorce lawyers have their busiest month], credit card bills start arriving and the optimism of the New Year and new year resolutions start fading.

For students, January often means mid-year exams.  Students have left the cosiness of home where they have usually been looked after and return to essay deadlines, exams, doing their own cooking and cleaning etc. First years have got over the excitement of starting University and second and third years have the pressure of knowing that all marks contribute to their degree grades. The short days and the darkness make it hard to get up in the morning and to motivate yourself. Some people do suffer from SAD, seasonal affective disorder where a lack of light can lead to depression.

Stress, anxiety and depression are very common anyway. A new report published a couple of days ago by ICM claims that 55% of interviewees said that stress caused by their employment has an adverse effect on their mental health and day to day life. As a GP 1 in 4 of my consultations are about stress, anxiety and depression. That is far more than any other condition, including all respiratory infections such as ear, throat and chest infections combined!

Medical Schools repeatedly remind interviewers that students and doctors who fail and cause concern do so, not because they are not clever but usually because of stress and a lack of ‘emotional resilience’. The medical course is long, intensive, full of exams and students and doctors constantly see distressing events. Empathy is important but it is always important to keep a professional distance and take care of yourself.  Therefore many candidates if not most, will be asked questions on how they cope with stress or how do they think that they would manage a heavy workload and extra curricular activities.

By now you should have evolved ways of learning, dealing with exams,managing your workload  and developed ways of relaxing. To avoid feeling overwhelmed some people make lists, it is important to prioritise tasks,delegate or even cross off tasks further down your list.  It is difficult but sometimes necessary to be assertive and to speak to people who have unrealistic expectations; for example a teacher who seems to ‘forget’ that you have other subjects apart from hers. Managing time effectively, (using travelling time to read the student BMJ or this blog for example!) is important. Demonstrating self discipline e.g. by getting up early before school for rowing practice would be worth mentioning. It is also important to have ways to unwind. Exercise is a great way of burning off stress hormones and boosting endorphin levels, as is music and singing. True friendships areinvaluable and bring a sense of self worth. And anyone having difficulties should seek help as soon as possible and realise there is no shame attached to this. Macho – ‘I can cope’, ‘soldier on’ attitudes are very much frowned upon.

 

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