Rediscovering my Wellness in the Midst of COVID-19

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Difficult times. Unprecedented times. Different times. Regardless of how the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders are phrased, the impact on many is the same.

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The views and opinions expressed in this collection are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Madison Lodge is a second-year medical student at Keck School of Medicine of USC. She received her Bachelor's degree from Claremont McKenna College, where she discovered her interest in advocacy and student wellness. She hopes to continue improving wellness in the medical field as a pediatrician.

Difficult times. Unprecedented times. Different times. Regardless of how the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders are phrased, the impact on many is the same. We have been asked to socially isolate. Our gyms, restaurants, and beaches are closed. These actions are necessary to protect ourselves and our communities, but there is a heavy impact it can have on wellness, especially for students.

Medical school is already a uniquely challenging time in our lives. First year students are focusing on solidifying friendships, a routine, and mastering foundations of medicine. Second year students are currently preparing for Step 1 exams and revving up for clinical rotations. Third years are finishing their core clerkships and selecting a specialty of interest. Fourth years are celebrating match and graduating, both incredible achievements. Currently, all of this has been disrupted and is out of our control.

As medical students, we aren’t used to not having control. We meticulously shape our lives to provide the best opportunities for our future. We are planners. But in these uncertain times, we aren’t able to control our curriculum and are forced to be flexible despite our plans. Additionally, many of our methods for stress relief have been disrupted. If you are struggling right now, you are not alone. Luckily, medical students are also known for being creative, so we can adapt, and we will get through this together.

As a second-year medical student, I manage my wellness by creating a schedule that included lifting weights, studying with friends, going to coffee shops, hiking, and spending time at the pool. After discussing my anxiety from the abrupt disruption of my routine in the midst of Step studying, I realized that I still have power to control certain aspects of my life. I can adjust my previous wellness activities and routines!

If you enjoy exercise, there are many live Instagram and YouTube workouts available – for free! Before this pandemic, I never realized how much of a burn you can get from high intensity bodyweight training. Several yoga studies like CorePower and Hot8 yoga are offering free hour long live classes. I’ve even seen workouts using wine bottles as weights! I’ve also added meditation into my daily routine to help with added stress. My school, Keck School of Medicine, is hosting a 30-day meditation challenge through the month of April. Get a group of friends together and try meditating; it is so helpful to have an “accountabilibuddy” (definition: a friend that helps keep you accountable for your goals)! Although I can no longer hike since many trails are closed, I am able to walk around my neighborhood and spend some time outdoors. Fresh air, breeze, and springtime always clear my head.

Also, I have found that staying socially connected is very important. Although texting is an easy way to connect with friends, the more senses engaged the better! Using videochat apps like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and Houseparty are great ways to chat with friends, have virtual happy hour, have a Netflix party, play board games, or even study! My friends and I hold virtual Pomodoro studying sessions via Zoom. For those who don’t know about the Pomodoro study method, it is a great way to study mindfully, boost productivity, and reduce burn out. Essentially, you study in focused 25-minute bursts with 5 minutes of break to address your needs like hunger, loneliness, etc.! Something else that I have added to my wellness routine is sharing with my friends the best part of my day, something difficult, and something that I am grateful for. By doing this together, we automatically create a space where it is safe to share a variety of feelings.

Whether you are new to wellness, are looking for tips on adjusting your routine, or need to add more balance in these times, I hope that my experience rediscovering my wellness is helpful. It is an accomplishment to keep up a routine, stay well, and survive this. My thoughts go out to everyone impacted by COVID-19, and I hope you stay safe, happy, and well.

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