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Stress: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Posted by Amanda Dexter on May 6, 2021 at 12:30 PM
Amanda Dexter
Dr. Amanda K. Dexter received her optometric training at Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton, California, where she was Class of 2010 Valedictorian. She also completed a residency in Primary Care and Ocular Disease at the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in San Diego, California. Dr. Dexter is the Manager and Program Coordinator for OptoPrep, the premiere online study resource for the NBEO Part I & II.

Stress!Studying is stressful. Whether you are preparing yourself for an ocular disease midterm, practicing gonioscopy for a practical examination, or studying for the upcoming NBEO, devoting a significant amount of your time and energy to learning is a complex process.

Stress is an inevitable feeling that accompanies your body’s response to being under pressure. It is important to know that not all the stresses that come along with your studies are bad or harmful to your productivity. A certain amount of stress can actually be a useful part of studying; it can assist you to work harder, to be more focused, and can even enhance your efficiency.

On the flip side, too little, or too much stress can prevent you from studying effectively, and extremely high-stress levels can be very damaging to your mind and body. 

It is important to distinguish between the “good” stress that assists your studies and the “bad” stress that prevents effective studying. As an optometry student, you will find yourself dealing with stress that can seem to be never-ending.

I remember a time in school when we had at least two midterms per week, practical or lab exams in addition to the midterms, homework, and projects due, and then also had to try to find some spare time in between to study for boards. The stress can sometimes be overwhelming, but once you can identify when the stress becomes detrimental to your productivity, you can work to reduce the harmful stress as much as possible. 

5 Warning Signs of Too Much Stress
  1. Sleep Problems One of the main signs of harmful stress is the inability to fall asleep, or constantly waking up in the middle of the night, resulting in insufficient amounts of sleep. Adequate amounts of sleep are extremely important when you have an upcoming big test such as the NBEO, as sleep helps to recharge you so that you can tackle the responsibilities of your day. If you are lacking sleep, you will have difficulty concentrating and retaining information, which will then lead to a snowball effect; subsequently causing you to be even more stressed. 
  2. Inability to Focus If you find yourself sitting at your desk trying to study, and you just can’t focus, this is a sign that your stress is at a very high level. Too much stress will cause your mind to race in all different directions, making it very difficult to read and retain information from your studies. 
  3. Inability to Relax Relaxation is very important when it comes to managing stress. When stress levels are through the roof, your body will have difficulty calming down and relaxing. Even when you try to take a break from studying and attempt to do something different, such as watch television, meet with a friend or family member, go for a walk, or work out, your mind will continue to only think about studying. When stress causes this feeling, it is counterproductive. 
  4. Getting Sick More Often than Usual High levels of stress can actually manifest themselves with physical symptoms, literally making you feel sick. This can include cold symptoms, headaches, digestive issues, body aches, skin rashes or hives, breathing problems, etc. Of course, if you aren’t feeling on top of your game due to some of these symptoms, it will be difficult for you to studying efficiently and effectively. 
  5. Social Isolation All of the exams and tests that come along with the responsibilities of being an optometry student can make you feel like the only thing you have time to do is study. Isolating yourself from your friends and family to focus only on your studies is not good for your well-being. Consistent interaction with others is a great way to boost your spirits, and people are typically more productive when they are in a better mood.
What Can You Do to Manage “Bad” Stress?

If you feel like you may be experiencing some (or all) of the signs of too much stress, take a minute to think about what has been going on around you and evaluate how you have been feeling lately. Think about your stress level and the symptoms of harmful stress mentioned above and try to rate your stress level on a scale of 0-10. 

Students with very low amounts of stress (0-3) could be described as having so little stress that they actually do not feel the need to study. A moderate amount of stress (4-7) is a great area to be in while studying. Students experiencing this level of stress are the most productive. The harder they work, the better they do. If a student reports a level of stress between 8 and 10, this is considered the “danger zone,” in which they are too stressed to study effectively. When you are in this zone, it is important to recognize that modifications to your daily activities and study habits need to occur in order to reduce your stress to a more manageable level. 

Stay tuned for our next blog post in which I will provide you with several great tips and tricks that I learned throughout optometry school and beyond to help manage the harmful stress that can interfere with your studies!

-Dr. Dexter 

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