Trying to match into residency or fellowship can be stressful. I’ve gone through the match once for residency, and I’m currently going through it a second time for fellowship, so I understand your plight if you are going through it too. There are many variables that are out of our control. As much as we may desire to match our desired specialty at our desired location, this uncertainty can lead to anxiety, potentially worsening our mental and physical health. Here are some things we can do to decrease our anxiety during this time.
Lean on the support of others. While we are all pretty good at handling difficult situations in medicine, we don’t have to do everything alone. Not when it comes to this. Although it can be tempting to keep this process to yourself to avoid the reactions from others in case things don’t go as well as you’d hoped, I’d caution you against that. You may not have to tell the world your plans, but leaning on the support of family and friends around you can help more than you know. Our loved ones help remind us that we are more than our careers and that we will have their support and well wishes no matter what happens. Being reminded of their unwavering support can help remove some of the pressure we place on ourselves and make the process much less stressful.
Recognize that some things are beyond your control. As medical students or residents, we got to this point in our lives by being smart and completing the necessary steps to get through training. We are good at doing what needs to be done to achieve our desired goal. The match process is a totally different beast. Once you submit your application, you are waiting for programs to review it, hoping they send you an interview invitation and praying they rank you high enough to match. As you go through this process, it’s important to remember that what happens after we submit the application is beyond our control. Worrying about what will or won’t happen will not affect what happens, so we must fight against the anxiousness we may feel. I often find that the process is much easier to manage when I transition from worrying about nonideal outcomes to instead hoping for pleasant ones.
Practice mindfulness with prayer, meditation, and therapy. It is entirely possible that you can try to think positively and know things are not in your control but still have moments of anxiety. During these times, it’s imperative that you practice mindfulness. If you’re religious, try praying. If you don’t identify with a particular religion, you can also consider meditation. Plenty of apps and YouTube videos can help you learn techniques to quiet your mind and bring you a sense of peace. Many people, such as myself, find therapy helpful. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have a mental health disorder to attend therapy. It can instead be used as an exercise for the mind that helps you process things in a productive way, better understand your behaviors, and improve your thought patterns. Whether it’s prayer, medication, therapy, or a combination of all 3, practicing mindfulness can decrease anxiety and bring us more peace.
Find healthy ways to destress. Along with practicing mindfulness, it can also help to find active ways to destress. Consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol, caffeine, or comfort food may make us happy at the moment but can have a negative impact on our overall health. To avoid this, consider other ways to destress that align with your sources of happiness. Are you someone who likes to work out? Do you enjoy yoga? Do you like to cook? Are you an avid reader? Is binging mindless tv at home your happy place? If you’re not exactly sure, explore a few ideas and figure out which ones you like. The key is to find ways to destress by engaging in activities that take your mind off of the process.
Be optimistic about the future. One of the best things we can do for our mental health during this period of uncertainty is to remain optimistic. Being an optimist doesn’t mean you ignore reality or become naïve. It is the belief that most things will work out for most people most of the time. It is realizing that although things are uncertain, the odds are in your favor. Adopting this mindset can put you more at ease. It can help you to worry less and hope more. During this time, healthy doses of optimism can go a long way.
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