I’m a student for life. I love learning, and relish any chance to gain experience in our exciting field of Naturopathic Medicine. It’s incredibly nourishing to study what I’m passionate about, but I also know that the life of a dedicated naturopathic medical student can bring with it periods of serious imbalance in my life: weekends when I’m holed up with textbooks and late nights at the library, leaving little time for self-care. This happens to all of us. Not just to those in school, but to everyone pursuing their goals. Seeing a new cohort of students studying for NPLEX I and II reminded me just how difficult it can be to keep balance in this program. It’s brought me to think about balance and I want to share something that helps gets me through challenging CCNM times.
First, let’s talk about imbalance. I believe it’s not always a wholly negative thing. Sometimes it can bring about great achievements – if we know how to work with it. But when overwhelming schedules and commitments are unsustainable, we give up too much of ourselves. We know how unbridled imbalance can become toxic and we can end up in social isolation, withdrawal, depression, and with a sense of failure in comparison to other strong students. When this happens, often our first inclination is to wish we had done a better job of managing commitments and schedules so that it wouldn’t happen in the first place. Or, we wish we were better at saying ‘no’. Instead of looking back and blaming ourselves, we can meet such difficulty in a kinder way.
I call it the Imbalance Deal.
It’s a pact to make with yourself when you first start to feel stress build up over a major commitment, for example; NPLEX or finals. The key is to make the pact before you are stressed and thrown off balance so that when it happens, you are able to recognize that you are in the thick of it and you know you have a healthy path to follow.
1. Choose an exact end-date to the commitment and do not compromise on it. It can make it easier to endure a period of imbalance if you know the day it will end. Is there a deadline, an event, an exam date? Set a reasonable amount of time to be fully committed to working up to that date. Circle it on your calendar and plan a celebration or treat at the end. Keep working until the day comes, and then you know you will have done your best and can relax. If you can, keep the commitment short and know your limits from previous experiences of burnout and respect them.
2. Make an emotional promise that during this time of elevated stress you will not take your emotions and thoughts too seriously. If you know that when you are stressed you begin to feel afraid, doubtful or defeated, be aware of this in advance so that you can weather the storm. When these feelings come up, recognize them and plan to spend time with each intense or upsetting emotion when your commitment is over. For the time being, make an effort not to follow the thoughts to their end. Often you’ll find that the difficult emotions you thought you desperately needed to deal with at the time dissipate along with the stress when the commitment is over. If not, you will be much better equipped to address the situation when you’re not already over-taxed and exhausted.
3. Remember your deepest values and core beliefs that you will return to once the commitment is completed. Write them down so that when the end-date comes, you can refresh yourself on how to return to the temporarily neglected parts of you life: friends, healthy eating, proper sleep, exercise, meditation, writing, nature, being a good family member, that book you were reading, etc. Make appointments on your calendar for after your end-date.
Even out of school, imbalance will continue happen in our lives because we are living in a human world. Instead of fighting it, or getting angry with ourselves and others, this Imbalance Deal can help you compassionately weather the emotional and physical storm of “I just need to get this done” until you can re-equilibrate. Circle a date on your calendar and make a date to celebrate yourself once the clouds have cleared.
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