Trying Something New

Hayley M.Everyone in veterinary school, and even most who are not, knows that vet school requires an abundance of study time.

However, the piece of advice that I heard the most from veterinarians, current students, and professors before and during my first year in vet school was to always make time for myself and do something that I wanted to do at least once a week, no matter how much studying I needed to do or what test was coming up.

That sounded fine and all, but during my first semester, I found myself wondering how in the world I was going to make time to do that when we have two tests a week for the majority of the semester!

As an undergraduate, I was the person who was able to study the night before a test and still get a great grade on it. I knew that was definitely not going to be the case when I got into vet school and that I would have to make some major adjustments.

So, I thought there was no way that I was going to be able to take their advice and make time for myself between studying, taking care of my pets, going to the gym, and making time for my family and boyfriend. I thought it was a lost cause and I didn’t even attempt to plan something out for myself each week, instead burying myself in my notes and study guides, because after all, school has to be my priority for the next three and a half years.

But this past week, my friends and I decided to actually take that advice and try it out to see if it might affect our grade on our upcoming anatomy test. Instead of vigorously studying the entire week, every single chance we got like we had originally planned, we took a break one afternoon and decided to go out and eat at one of our favorite restaurants and not talk about school.

We talked, we laughed, and we had a great time while eating our favorite meal—chips and queso of course—and finally took a breather and a moment for ourselves. It was definitely a needed moment, and I instantly understood why so many people had given me that advice before I started vet school.

For the remainder of the week, I felt like I had a second wind. I was able to retain more while studying and I didn’t feel so burnt out. I found myself legitimately enjoying my week instead of stressing about what to study next.

Now, I think it’s safe to say that even if my grade goes down a point or two, I will definitely begin to plan and set aside time each week to do something for myself.

For the rest of my vet school career, I will put value on self-care to make sure I make the most out of my time in school; by trying to thoroughly enjoy vet school instead of thinking about it as the time I had to study for four straight years, I know I will look back on the experience as I time I really did enjoy and remember how appreciative I am that I’ve had this awesome opportunity.

Spring Break, Indeed

Let’s be honest—veterinary school is no walk in the park. It’s designed to push, challenge, and shape you into the best possible veterinarian you can be, all while learning all of the factors that affect every species of patient you could possibly encounter.

Kelsi and her friends in CaboOne thing I have come to appreciate more than I ever could have imagined prior to starting veterinary school is the value of a break.

In the past, I have always spent my Spring Break working either for money or to better my veterinary school application; returning to school tended to be more relaxing than the week outside of class. I never imagined I would be able to afford to vacation somewhere for the break, so I always booked something else that week in order to have a reason other than a lack of funds to decline invitations.

This year, for the first time ever, I made the decision to ACTUALLY give myself a break, and it was one of the best decisions I could have ever made. Ever the money-conscious veterinary students, my roommate and I shopped around for deals and opportunities for mini-vacations and stumbled an affordable, all-inclusive adventure.

At 5 p.m. on March 8, my two roommates, a friend, and I headed out of College Station to go drop off our dogs and make our way to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

My fellow first-year veterinary student roommate and I had made a pact to truly give ourselves a break, meaning there would be no school work or conversation on our trip. For the next week we laid in the sun, rode jet skis in the ocean waves, napped, ate and drank as we pleased at an all-inclusive resort with not a single textbook or alarm in sight.

It was glorious.

I returned to school this week feeling completely refreshed and ready to tackle these last seven weeks of my first year of veterinary school.

While it was an adjustment to go back to being in class all day instead of taking midday naps by the pool, the 15 exams I have left in this semester does not fill me with dread like they did on March 8.

I can honestly say that choosing to allow myself to take a break was the best thing I could have ever done.

Making Time for Myself

Jana with her sorority sisters at SongFest
Jana and her sorority sisters used their study breaks to prepare to participate in SongFest; their theme “Game of Thrones.”

As the semester moves from Thanksgiving break into finals, now is a better time than ever to stress the importance of self-care, which has a reputation of being a glamorous luxury that requires a lot of time and money. While this is far from the case, it is also more than just mentally checking out and watching Netflix for a few hours.

As an average college student, I find myself under a lot of pressure to perform well in school, be involved in extra curricular activities, hold a job, maintain a social life, stay healthy, and keep my room clean. Even though that last one tends to fall lower on my list of priorities, I still struggle to make time for all aspects of my busy life, let alone to take care of myself.

According to PsychCentral, self-care is defined as any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. That can mean different things to different people, but there are a few things to consider when thinking about your own self-care:

  1. Self-care is a way to recharge and replenish, not take away.
    As much as I love watching of all my TV shows, I found that I was not getting the relief I needed from a chronically stressful environment by mindlessly turning on “The Office” for the seventh time. Rather, activities that are engaging, yet still relaxing, have proven to be the better option. By reading a book has been my go-to downtime activity this past semester, for example, I am able to give my eyes a break from screens and lose myself in a story that is not visually presented to me; it is a personal, cozy pastime that also gives my brain some exercise. Be it reading a book, spending time outside, or even watching something different on TV, the time set aside for self-care is precious and is meant to be a way to give back to yourself.

    Jana and her Friends at Messina Hoff
    Jana and her friends enjoyed a Sunday afternoon at Messina Hoff after a long week of tests.
  2. Instead of an occasional treat, self-care is most effective when incorporated into everyday life.
    Some people meditate for a few minutes every morning; others hit the gym everyday after class. This aspect of self-care requires establishing a routine and knowing how you work most efficiently. Most days I feel like a ping-pong ball bouncing between school and work and friends and studying. The name of the game for me is frequent, short breaks. Right before classes started, a friend told me about this wonderful app from NPR called NPR One. Since downloading this free app, I have discovered that NPR is so much more than morning news and documentaries about obscure subjects (though those have proven to be really, really cool). Ranging from three to 45 minutes, incredibly enriching podcasts and radio shows that cross dozens of subjects serve as perfect intermissions to my day. Now, I look forward to my drives across town and walks between class buildings. Integrating self-care of any form into daily practice reduces and prevents anxiety and stress, leaving room for positivity and productivity.
  3. Self-care is not selfish.
    This final point addresses the perception of self-care. From a young age we are encouraged to give to and care for the people around us, to always work our hardest and try our best. It can be uncomfortable to bring something new into your lifestyle that seems to be solely for personal relaxation and pleasure. As a student working toward attending veterinary school, I have drilled the ideas of working hard, pushing my limits, and not stopping until the letters D, V, and M are behind my name; it has become the core of my undergraduate career. While determination and giving 100 percent are keys to success, I have learned you cannot get there running on fumes alone. In order to reach my full potential as a student, employee, ambassador, daughter, friend, and vet school applicant, I must take care of myself mentally, emotionally, and physically. In doing so, I am able to put my best foot forward when it comes to supporting the people in my life.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of self-care characteristics or activities, I hope this serves to stimulate delving further into understanding the importance of self-care and discovering which techniques work best for you. Start that journal, make time for that fitness class, or stop being afraid to talk to a counselor.

Self-care is meant to build healthier, happier people, and healthier, happier people tend to do better on finals.