When I reflect on my life, there is not a single moment I can think of where I didn’t suffer from anxiety.
Most of my anxiety is related to punctuality and exams. I always have to leave early for appointments because my definition of ‘on-time’ is thirty minutes early. I remember when I had my first anxiety attack in middle school. My dad was supposed to drive me to school for a final exam. I wanted to leave a half hour early to make sure we got there on time. He called me to tell me he was running fifteen minutes late and I started to cry. Anxiety, worry and stress ensued.
Throughout my education, I’ve sat for tons of exams — from subject tests, to state exams, school finals and the MCAT. I had to find a way to handle my anxiety. Many suggested deep breathing exercises, yoga, and other relaxation techniques, but those didn’t work for me. The anxiety that I deal with can easily become overpowering. I live with a basal amount of anxiety but frequently deal with increased anxiety levels as important events approach. My anxiety takes over my whole body to the point where I become paralyzed. In order for me to deal with my anxiety, I realized I needed to find something that I was passionate about and could distract me before exams.
I discovered baking. From that moment on, the night before big exams, I would bake cookies for my whole class. It was a win-win. I would take an hour out of my evening to focus on something that wasn’t school and it worked to relieve my stress and anxiety. Plus, I got to eat cookies the next day! Once I got to medical school I realized that perhaps eating cookies before each exam was not the healthiest choice and my pre-test ritual started to take up too much time.
When I was growing up, the kitchen was the center of my home. My mom, a stereotypical Jewish mother, was constantly cooking meals. Jewish moms like to make enough food to feed an army even when just serving a family of five. My mom loved company in the kitchen and appreciated any help she could get. During high school and college I mainly baked the desserts for our family meals but after I got married and started medical school baking became too time consuming and I wanted to ensure that my husband and I ate well-balanced meals.
Every night (well most nights), my husband comes home to a freshly made home cooked meal. As schoolwork becomes more challenging and our board examination approaches, it is more and more difficult to cook meals every night. After five hours of board studying in the mornings and four hours of lecture review in the evenings — time and energy quickly fade. How do you make time for health and wellness? When do you find the time to eat? I know from my medical education the importance of eating meals throughout the day but sometimes when you are sitting at your desk doing practice questions and reviewing notes, time escapes you.
Just as in high school, I realized I needed to come up with some proactive ways to excel in medical school, manage my anxiety, and stay healthy. I started by just creating simple, easy and delicious recipes that take under 15 minutes prep time. This distracts me for a minimal amount of time while lowering my anxiety down to a more manageable baseline level. Sometimes just taking a break from studying for a short time can be more beneficial than taking a single, hours long break. I also created an Instagram handle to share my recipes with other medical students. Not only did cooking every day help manage my anxiety, but it helped me take care of myself. I want to ensure that I become the best physician I can be. This means I need to study hard at school but this also means that at home I need to make sure I am healthy and well for my future patients.
Cooking helps to remind me that I need to eat at least three meals a day plus snacks and create some down time for myself. Surprisingly, not only medical students started following me on Instagram but also busy moms, doctors, and regular people who live busy lives looking for quick healthful recipes started following my recipes. While not all my recipes are 100% healthy, most of them have a healthy spin that emphasize the importance of having a well-balanced meal consisting of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates.
As January approached and board studying increased, even these easy recipes were starting to get hard to follow. Sometimes I feel like all my time has to go to board studying. I had to figure out something to continue my passion without increasing my anxiety when thinking about boards. I started a series called “Cooking For Boards.” I made simple, easy and delicious recipes that relate to board relevant topics. For example, I posted a recipe for meatballs and reminded myself about Malassezia furfur. I made another recipe for one-pan-chicken and onion and reviewed pathognomonic onion skinning on histology. I was still able to take a break from studying to cook and help myself and my fellow peers remember board relevant topics.
Hopefully medical students will continue to use cooking and other creative outlets to keep up the balance between their academic and home life. While us future doctors are extraordinary, we are people too. We need to eat, socialize, sleep and find ways to manage our stress and anxiety.