Overcoming Anxiety Over the MCAT: Self-Care During Prep
The MCAT is a stressful and demanding exam. Some students struggle to stay motivated when studying, particularly when the end appears so far away. During MCAT preparation, it’s easy to let oneself slip into a state of mental and physical exhaustion, leading to burnout. Understanding how to overcome anxiety over the MCAT is incredibly important.
To help you better manage your stress, boost your productivity, and keep your physical and mental health in good shape, you need to take a step back and regularly engage in some form of self-care. You can’t pour from an empty cup, after all. But where do we even begin? Here we’ve compiled tips for MCAT motivation and offered some solutions to avoid burnout throughout your MCAT preparation.
Tips for MCAT Motivation
Self-doubt is a natural part of MCAT preparation. You might have nagging thoughts such as, “Have I studied hard enough?” ‘Will I be able to attain my target score?’… ‘Am I good enough to do this?’… ‘Others appear to handle the situation better’… ‘What if I fail?’ ‘What if I can never get into a medical school?’
You might not take these thoughts seriously, yet they could build up and affect your motivation. So, here are some things you could do to stay motivated:
MCAT Motivation: The Goldilocks Rule
For some premedical students, the most challenging step in their MCAT preparation is getting started. At this stage, it could be very useful to remember Newton’s First Law: objects in motion will remain in motion. The same applies to studying. You need to overcome the first barrier, and then the rest will fall into place!
That’s easier to say than to do, right? Pushing oneself into a study mode is easier if you picture yourself at the finish line.
Check out the medical schools that interest you, watch their welcome videos, and analyze their statistics. Set an overall MCAT result for yourself and a score range for each part of the test. Now that you know the time limitation and the personal responsibility that rests on your shoulders, you will be motivated to get started on your MCAT preparation journey.
Keeping your MCAT prep in the right range of difficulty can help you stay motivated and focused on your studies. According to the Goldilocks Rule, we are at our most motivated to work when the task we are performing falls somewhere in the middle of what we are capable of and what we are not capable of. Overall, this indicates that humans like to take on challenges they can actually complete.
Motivate Yourself to Study for the MCAT by Getting Organized.
From here, it’s critical to prioritize organization. You should keep track of your progress, document your accomplishments, and turn the abstract idea of MCAT preparation into something you can picture. Every time you check something off your to-do list, you get a small dopamine surge that motivates you to keep up your good habits and experience a sense of accomplishment.
Develop Effective MCAT Study Habits
Now that you have taken the first step in your MCAT preparation journey, it is time to discuss how to keep that MCAT motivation going strong throughout the long days and months you will be preparing for the exam.
As we said earlier, you need to develop strong study habits to succeed. Set realistic goals for how much time you can spend studying each week and make the most of your hours. Make use of popular sources of distraction, such as Netflix and social media, to create a bonus system. You might not be able to avoid them altogether, so use them as a break after you’ve finished the day’s work. Make sure that you are not distracted when you are studying and that you remain focused. Involving other people can also help you stay accountable.
For example, you can make it a point to sit down with a friend or roommate to review your flashcards. Find a friend who follows a study routine comparable to yours, plan study days, and review sessions for difficult topics and sections. Having someone who can help you stay motivated means that you aren’t carrying the weight of the MCAT on your own and that you have other people helping you along the way.
MCAT prep is a journey; therefore, there will be difficult climbs as well as easy pathways. Remember to admire the view from those heights while you are there. After completing your physics flashcards or understanding a complicated formula, reward yourself with an additional day off or your favorite meal.
Celebrating the small victories along the way is crucial because they eventually lead to the big one in the end! In the same way, it’s a good idea to plan an exciting reward for yourself after the test. You’ve completed it once you’ve sat for 8 hours, regardless of the outcome. You’ve put in a lot of effort, and now it’s time to reward yourself. You can plan to go out with your friends or treat your significant other to a romantic evening. The approaching date of the MCAT will seem less like a reason for concern and more like a chance to celebrate if you have something to look forward to after the test.
Don’t Forget Why You Started
Remember why you’re putting in the effort, even when struggling with diagrams or working hard on the amino acids. Take a few moments to think about your mentors, eureka moments, and reasons for choosing medicine as a career. Here are a few ideas: Make a list of the goals you hope to achieve with the MCAT. You are studying all this information and working through all these challenges to become a physician. How do you feel about that? If you have the answer written down and stashed away to refer to when you’re having a bad day, you will see that the MCAT is worth the effort. You will make a difference in the world as a physician, and this alone can motivate you to return to your desk, open your laptop, and get going!
Tips for Self-care During MCAT Prep
The growing pressure and stress over the MCAT might impact you physically and emotionally. Self-care and mental well-being may be the last thing on your mind while you are focused on your MCAT score. But dealing with stress is essential to avoid burnout and keep your mental health in good shape. Here are some self-care suggestions to help you achieve better balance during your MCAT preparation.
Take a Breather
Even though it seems strange, taking a break from your work could be just what you need to be more productive. You may assume that if you just sit down and work hard, you’ll be able to do things faster. However, if you want to succeed in the long run, you should treat it like a marathon rather than a sprint. For example, if you study for 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break, your mind will stay fresh, and you’ll be able to concentrate. A timer can help you stay on track and prevent letting 15-minute intervals develop into three-hour YouTube binges.
Get in Touch with Friends.
There’s no denying that studying can be a very solitary activity, and it’s easy to find yourself stuck with your own thoughts at times. Spend some time with a friend and enjoy some fresh air. There’s a good chance that you aren’t the only one feeling overwhelmed or needing a break. Whether it’s a cup of coffee, a walk along the beach, or a lunch date with a friend, use this time to recharge and connect with others.
Change Your Location
The place you’re in may have a massive impact on your mood and your ability to concentrate. If you feel stuck or bored, try something new. Set up your desk in a quieter location or study with a friend. You could even try playing some ambient music in the background to liven things up a little bit.
Find a Way to Ground Yourself
Feeling stressed or irritable while studying for the MCAT is natural. The important thing is to find ways to keep your negative thoughts at bay. Some great apps, like Headspace or Calm, can help you do this. Use them to ground yourself, practice breathing, work on mindfulness, and shift your focus away from negative thoughts.
Increase Your Physical Activity
A sound body and a sound mind go hand in hand. As cliché as it may seem, you shouldn’t dismiss it until you give it a go for yourself. Take a short run, do some yoga, or go for a walk if you’re studying all day at your desk. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You’ll get your daily fix of vitamin D, breathe some fresh air, and feel much better after doing some exercise.
Don’t Underestimate a Good Night’s Sleep
If you have enough sleep, you’ll be able to remember what you have learned and concentrate on your studies. You’d be surprised what a good night’s sleep can do for your performance, mental health, and general well-being. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Eat Well and Stay Hydrated
It’s easier said than done, but the healthier you eat, the better you’ll feel. If you’re looking for a long-lasting energy source, avoid sugary snacks and opt for something with some protein or healthy fats instead. Avoid relying on sweets to get you through the day. Also, avoid drinking too much coffee late in the day because it will affect your sleep quality. Staying hydrated can also boost your energy level.
Consider the Bigger Picture
Taking time to think about what you need to do to achieve your goals will help alleviate some of your anxiety. You can write down your thoughts and worries to get a clear picture of where you are and where you want to go. Create a to-do list, prioritize the items on the list, change your schedule if needed, and be aware of your limitations. Don’t blame yourself for the things that you cannot control.
Share Your Concerns
Reach out to someone and talk about how you feel if stress is becoming too much for you to handle. Most of the time, simply expressing one’s emotions can alleviate a significant amount of stress. Friends and family members may be able to empathize or have had comparable experiences, so don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. If you suppress your emotions, they will eventually become an anchor that drags you down. It’s easier to put things into perspective when you talk about them with other people. Whether you speak to a parent/caregiver, a friend, or a consultant, you will be surprised at how much better you feel once you share your concerns about the upcoming MCAT.
Last but not least, give yourself a treat! Make sure you give yourself credit for crossing things off your list and acknowledge when you’ve reached a goal, no matter how small. Giving yourself a small reward can help you remain on track with your study schedule and inspire you. After completing a task successfully, you can reward yourself by going for a coffee break, treating yourself to a snack, or watching an episode or two of your favorite show.
Studying for the MCAT is not easy, and there is a lot to balance, but prioritizing your well-being can help you manage stress and preserve your mental and physical health. When you take small steps, you can reach big goals.
Begin Practicing Self-care Today!
Don’t put off self-care until you’re in a crisis. Try to include these things in your everyday life. Therefore, you will be equipped with healthy coping mechanisms when stress strikes. Good luck with your studying, and don’t forget to put your mental and physical well-being first.
If your MCAT anxiety has its own MCAT anxiety, it may be time to get some help.
If you’re struggling with your MCAT journey and you’re not sure how to proceed, schedule an appointment with a Jack Westin Academic Advisor. Each Advisor is equipped with the resources to help you decide what your next step needs to be and how to best overcome your MCAT anxiety. CLICK HERE TO SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT TODAY.