Endocrinologist Hans Selye defined stress as a nonspecific response to pressure or demand, and this is still true today. Optometry school demands many factors that can cause stress, from workload to studying for exams, financial commitments and many more. Understanding the effects of stress on our minds and bodies and what we can do to manage stress can help us to make sure we have the best possible optometry school experience!
Some of the consequences of being stressed can include decreases in vaccination response, wound healing, infection resistance and it also can increase inflammation and autoimmune diseases (2). In terms of brain function, stress can decrease concentration, memory and even hippocampal density. Some more well-known effects are increased risk of anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances (2). As scary as some of these signs are, there are many ways we can manage stress, and as health care providers, (even for eyeballs) it’s good to understand how to accomplish that!
Exercise is especially helpful if you are experiencing anxiety. Your body releases endorphins, especially with consistent exercise, and this helps you relax. If you don’t have a fitness habit already, you can even start by just taking a walk for 20-30 minutes, three times a week. Yoga, prayer and other forms of meditation help us understand our relationship with the world around us and be more mindful in our thoughts. Another way to manage stress is to reduce stimulants such as coffee if you have more than two cups a day, using nicotine or eating too much sugar. A clean diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can do a lot of good and should be included in every meal. All of these things have been proven to contribute to managing stress and are good practice for daily habits.
Optometry schools will offer different resources to you to manage mental health, so take advantage of it while you are in school. It’s also important to remember that it’s okay to reach out to a doctor or health care professional if you’re struggling to manage on your own. We learn so much throughout our years in optometry school, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Stress causes an imbalance both in the mind and body, and if we can manage our stressors, we’ll be happier and healthier both for ourselves and for our patients as future optometrists.