02 Aug STRESS AND SELF-ESTEEM – CONFESSION OF A VETNOLIMITS STUDENT FROM THE SERIES “E-MAILS TO VETNOLIMITS”
First of all, I would like to point out that I know you are neither a psychotherapist nor an advisor of any kind. I understand if you ignore my message, but I will try to get in contact anyway. 🙂 I am a second-year student of veterinary medicine. Last year, I attended your lecture on writing a CV and finding a job abroad in the field of veterinary surgery. It made me really motivated. I know that you’ve recently held classes about dealing with stress in our (if I may say so already) profession. Paradoxically, I could not participate due to my assignments at the university, which I deeply regret. I struggle a lot with stress. I remember you telling us about the first year of your studies – I can absolutely identify with that. I’m already in the 2 nd year, and still, I cannot cope with certain things –injustice, the approach of teachers, the students’ attitude towards one another (jealousy and envy being usual), to name a few. I cannot even count how many times I felt like dropping out, cried and
regretted not choosing another field, despite the fact that I had been dedicated to study veterinary medicine and I even designed my school leaving exams accordingly. It’s not about how much we have to study. The reason is rather, for example, teachers creating problems from small things, or setting unjust rules (or no rules at all). I have always considered myself mentally and emotionally strong, but I have no idea how to deal with these situations. Many things have fallen apart recently, family-related issues have come up, and it is not easy. I cry after even the smallest failures, like an unsuccessful test (which could be improved later on). I have breakdowns about failing subjects and not progressing in my studies. I live in constant stress. I don’t find the time or the strength to find a psychotherapist. Also, it is hard for me to open up to anyone other than my mother and my boyfriend. I have the impression that this field is not for emotional and sensitive people. I see (or have concluded, slightly pessimistically, after the latest tests) that those who choose to cheat and be dishonest are doing much better. It makes me sad to be around people who think they are making the most of their lives when they are shady and dishonest. I have no intention of arousing compassion in you. However, I would be grateful for your advice. I would like to ask if you have materials about the last lectures on stress and whether there is a possibility to get them, for private use only, of course. I would be grateful for any other material that you can send me (in English as well). Thank you in advance if you take your time to send me some texts and articles.
Ania (altered name)
P.S. I wish you all the best for everything you do. I follow you on social media (I might sound like a stalker :D), and I find you to be a very positive and motivating person. Plus, thank you very much for being sincere, which I felt especially when listening to you live.
I cannot hide the fact that your e-mail moved me to the core. Thank you for your trust. I can give you some advice, but it’s up to you to decide what to do with them. Firstly, if you are crying all the time and feeling really down for more than 2 weeks, it is time to consult a psychotherapist. Mental health
is just as important as physical health, and it helps you maintain a sense of coherence.
I know very well how you feel. I know this state and how hard it is. I’ve gone through similar problems, personal ones as well, and it made my studies hard (the 3 rd year especially). I received help from a psychiatrist several times. The last time was halfway through my studies. He prescribed me the right antidepressants, after which I felt better. The symptoms you describe (crying, shaking, anxiety, stress and nerves) are all signs of depression and anxiety. These conditions affect many people, especially young people. Life is long, and practically everyone can experience a nervous breakdown at one point or another. A good doctor will set a correct diagnosis for you. You can choose your doctor by reading opinions on forums and on the Internet, or you can decide after talking to them. Don’t be afraid of medicines. Drugs available on the market nowadays are safe, they have insignificant side effects and they can give you great relief when used as recommended – you can breathe, calm down, you will have more energy, and you’ll be able to recover faster in case of a panic attack.
Ideally, pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy should be combined. It can be because of anxiety that you find it hard to open up to strangers – medicines will help you with this. Usually, it is advised to start psychotherapy 2-3 weeks after the start of pharmacotherapy, when the patient feels somewhat better. I know a psychotherapist, who, after 2 years of psychotherapy (obligatory for each therapist) started treatment with medication. Only after doing so was she able to open up to her therapist. She felt it all makes sense and found a deeper connection with herself.
Asking for professional help is the only way to end this problem. You won’t be able to do it on your own, neither with the help of your mother or your boyfriend. If it was that easy, there would be no job for psychotherapists. You need someone from outside with a professional approach, who can listen to you and make a diagnosis. They will not be emotionally involved as family and friends would be. I am telling you this based on my own experiences in two therapies. They made me stronger, more resilient and more sensitive to my own needs. They made me understand myself and others better. We will never be fully satisfied with our lives, with nothing left to work on. You need the courage to admit there is a problem, and to do something about it. More and more people write to me with stories similar to yours. Our research shows that about 40% of students have experienced stress-related disorders. Some suffer from anxiety, and the overwhelming majority is not prepared for the stress in their future work. There are multiple factors to this, some of which you described in your e-mail.
I cannot accept that you don’t have time to look for therapists. My time is limited as well. You may not have had the strength so far, which is understandable. But you need to collect the energy, and turn to a doctor. I know you are facing a lot of stress. However, time can always be found for your top priorities. Ask yourself: do you want to feel better? How much so? When should it happen?
Reading articles about stress management techniques won’t help you. You need to rebuild your approach towards yourself, the world and others. You need to get out of the role of the victim and accept the injustice around. The world works like that. I encounter this every day, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve learned to leverage my internal resources. I’ve found the strength within me and rebuilt my self-esteem. In general, we women, especially in Poland, tend to have low self-esteem, due to our upbringing and the social expectations.
This is a long, difficult and painful process. It requires taking risks, leaving your comfort zone, working on yourself, time (!), commitment and honesty towards yourself. There is no shortcut. I do not have a magical text for you that will change everything for the better. There are countless articles on the internet, but they just cannot resolve the problem. I am going to tell you how I deal with stress today, how I take care of myself and feel good. I don’t always follow all the rules, but here’s an overview of my techniques.
Sleep 8 hours every day. This is so simple and so difficult at the same time. During the VSGD conference in London, Chris Tufnell Senior Vice-President RCVS said that one of the most important factors of professional burnout and chronic stress in veterinary medicine is lack of sleep. I couldn’t agree with him more. I get exhausted when I sleep less than enough for a few days, and I get back to normal when I sleep as much as I need to again. The latest research shows we need not 7 and not 9, but 8.5 hours. Unfortunately I still go to bed at 1 am sometimes, but only because of reading books.
- Reading for pleasure
Read 1 book a week… Okay, 2 a month. I know, during their studies, a person gets sick picking up yet another book 😉 I also read less because my eyes got tired after sitting over the notes. But reading changes the brain. It becomes relaxed and endorphin secretion is stimulated. Just make sure to do something for yourself. The key is to do something for your own development. Devote yourself to hobbies, handicrafts, you name it!
- Meditation, relaxation techniques, attention training, prayer – anything that makes you experience beta frequencies. Find the most suitable way for you to help your brain regenerate and calm down. It’s the state right before bedtime or sitting at a boring lecture. Your body starts to regulate itself and relax. I have been using Silva’s dynamic meditation technique for almost 10 years now. It contributed greatly to my well-being. I also do yoga when I have the time. During my studies, I practiced regularly. It let me clear my mind and work on myself.
Move around for 45 minutes, at least 3 times a week. I don’t care about the pretty shape. It’s about taking care of ourselves and our mood. Sport increases the level of endorphins and helps the oxygenation of the brain. Excuses are easy to find – be careful to recognize them. When the weather is nice, you can walk, bike, or use an outdoor gym. You can find a number of free activities in parks in the summer. It is worth keeping an eye out for them on Facebook.
During my studies, my eating habits were terrible. I ate irregularly, I chose sandwiches and fried food from the buffet. Now, however, I often cook at home. I eat a mainly plant-based diet, and I gave up sweets, fast food and meat. I rarely drink alcohol, and I stopped consuming juices. My metabolism has improved, I sleep better and I feel lighter. Not long ago, I saw the great TED Talk of Eve Lahijani “Trust your hunger and make peace with food.” It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I understood what the secret of regular meals was all about. And it wasn’t about 5 small meals a day, as I used to eat.
- Listening to your body
We often ignore when something hurts. Nowadays, stress manifests itself in dozens of new ways. Hence, a whole new group of psychosomatic illnesses have appeared – they are the problems of the psyche showing themselves physically. Our body is sending us various signals (e.g. tension in muscles from sitting too much or stress). Physiotherapy, osteopathy and acupuncture answer the demand for relief. Our body is a truly complex organism. We learn to treat our tiny patients comprehensively –we should approach our body with the same thoroughness. Let’s not wait too long. The risks are high, we can even end up in a hospital. The number of psychosomatic diseases is growing. It stuns me how many forms stress can appear in: back pain, joint pain, neck pain, headache etc.
Stress and tension are part of our everyday lives now. Still, I know I’ve become aware of my psychological strength thanks to the lifestyle changes I’ve written about. When stress appears in any form, you need to react on time, and look at yourself holistically. Don’t be afraid of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. I hope you will be able to get out of this condition and learn how to take care of yourself. I keep my fingers crossed for you!
Thank you very much for taking the time to write me back. I think you are right: the I don’t have time at all approach is a result of fear and self-justification. Also, I was thinking I’ve always managed, I will do it by myself this time as well. I’ve realized it’s not the right attitude. I am an adult, and if I don’t help myself, nobody will help me.
Also, thank you for the advice and the principles you wrote about. Since the exam period ended, and there is more time for regeneration, I’m convincing myself to cook on my own, I’ve enrolled in dance classes, and I also want to try yoga. These are unrelated to what I do every day, so they help me get out of the hustle. I feel better now, but I know that if dark clouds gather again, I need to ask for the right person’s help. Maybe I was afraid that I would look ridiculous in front of a doctor; that pharmacotherapy sounds so serious; and that psychotherapy would force me to open up to a stranger, while having a hard time doing so even with my loved ones. I guess you just have to get over these fears and force yourself to take the first step.
Your words about injustice are very important to me: “I encounter this every day, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve learned to leverage my internal resources. I’ve found the strength within me and rebuilt my self-esteem.” This is the essence of my greatest struggle: the lack of internal
resources, the lack of strength (to a certain level) and the ability not to get frustrated and furious in unfair and painful situations. Anyway, I hope that I can improve and reach this level – the awareness about the problem is probably the first success.
Thank you and best regards,