Trying to match into residency or fellowship can be stressful. I went through the Match once for residency, and I’m currently going through it a second time for fellowship, so if you are going through it too, I understand your plight. There are many variables that are out of our control, and as much as we may desire to match into our desired specialty at our desired location, this uncertainty can lead to anxiety, which has the potential to worsen our mental and physical health. To follow are several strategies that have helped me decrease anxiety during this time.
First, lean on the support of others. While we are all pretty good at handling difficult situations in medicine, we don’t have to do everything alone. Not when it comes to this. Although it can be tempting to keep this process to yourself in case things don’t go as well as you’d hoped, I’d caution against that. You may not have to tell the whole world your plans, but leaning on the support of family and friends around you can help more than you know. Our loved ones help remind us that we are more than our careers, and that we have their support and well wishes no matter what happens. Being reminded of their unwavering support can help remove some of the pressure we place on ourselves, and make the process much less stressful.
Second, acknowledge that some things are beyond your control. As medical students or residents, we got to this point in our lives by completing the necessary steps to get through training. We are good at doing what needs to be done in order to achieve our desired goal. The Match is a totally different beast. Once you submit your application, you must then wait for programs to review it, hoping they send you an interview invitation and praying they rank you high enough to match. As you go through this process it’s important to remember that what happens after we submit the application is beyond our control. Worrying about it will not affect what happens, so we must fight against being overly anxious. I often find that the process is much easier to manage when I worry less about nonideal outcomes and instead hope for pleasant ones.
Third, practice mindfulness with prayer, meditation, and therapy. It is entirely possible that, despite thinking positively and accepting that things are not under your control, anxiety still arises. During these times, it’s imperative to practice mindfulness. If you’re religious, try praying. If you don’t identify with a particular faith tradition, you can also consider meditation. There are plenty of apps, classes, and videos that can help you learn techniques to quiet your mind and bring you a sense of peace. Many people, including myself, find therapy helpful. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have a mental health disorder to sign up for therapy. Rather, it can be used as an exercise for the mind to more productively process information, better understand behaviors, and improve thought patterns. Whether it's prayer, meditation, therapy, or a combination of all three, practicing mindfulness can help decrease anxiety and bring us more peace.
Fourth, find healthy ways to de-stress. Consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol, caffeine, or comfort food may make us happy momentarily, but these practices can have a negative impact on our overall health. To avoid this, consider other ways to de-stress that align with your sources of happiness. Are you someone who likes to workout? Do you enjoy yoga? Do you like to cook? Are you an avid reader? Is binge-watching TV at home your happy place? If you’re not exactly sure, explore a few ideas and figure out which ones you like. The key is to find ways to de-stress by engaging in activities that take your mind off of the process.
Finally, be optimistic about the future. One of the best things we can do for our mental health during this period of uncertainty is to remain optimistic. Being optimistic doesn’t mean you ignore reality or become naive. It is the belief that, most of the time, most things will work out for most people. It is realizing that, although things are uncertain, the odds are in your favor. Adopting this mindset can help put you at ease. It can help you worry less and be more hopeful. During stressful times, healthy doses of optimism can go a long way.
What helps you de-stress? Share your strategies in the comment section.
Dr. Altelisha Taylor is a family medicine resident at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. She has a passion for primary care sports medicine and enjoys writing articles on personal finance and health policy for several media outlets including her blog, CareerMoneyMoves.com. Altelisha was a Doximity 2019-2020 Fellow.
Illustration by April Brust