For many veterinary students, vet school is one of the most stressful experiences you’ve lived through thus far.

College was one thing. When you went to college the first time, you were eighteen and free of student debt. Now you’re looking at an ever-rising amount of debt and, by the way, you have to pass your classes and get a degree that says you’re certified to give medical treatment to animals.

We get it. Vet school is hard. But the stress doesn’t need to be overwhelming. The key is knowing how to successfully cope with stress. Here are three tips to live by.

1. Get Organized

First things first: you need to get organized.

Listen, we get it. Veterinary school is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got a lot on your plate, from a study schedule to student loans.

But taking the time to get organized can go a long way in helping you feel grounded. When the going gets tough, having an organizational structure to fall back on is an immense relief.

Start by organizing your living space. Make sure there’s a quiet space for you to focus and concentrate. Maybe it’s your desk, maybe it’s the local coffee shop.

Then, start organizing your life. Make a schedule. Write everything down (in the same place). And don’t forget to schedule some time to relax–no one can go 100% all the time, and you’ll wear yourself out if you try.

2. Sleep Well

When final exam season hits, sleep probably sounds like something you made up when you couldn’t remember the answer to an exam question.

But while it’s easy to lose yourself in studying (or accidentally stay awake too long with Netflix on your couch), trying to make it work with little sleep has a profound effect on how we experience stress.

Basically, your brain is working harder to make up for the lack of energy, which means your tolerance level for stressors (be it a grating professor, a rough exam, or even just bad weather) goes way down.

Adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep to function optimally. For the best results, align your sleep schedule with daylight hours (i.e. you should be in bed before midnight). Human circadian rhythms work best when they’re not fighting centuries of evolution that says light=awake and dark=sleep.

Plus, your classes are during the day anyway. You get to sleep and show up in class. It’s an all-around win.

3. Eat Well, Exercise Regularly

It’s often been said that food is the most abused antidepressant and exercise is the most underutilized anxiety cure.

Your body needs fuel to run. More importantly, it needs good fuel to run efficiently.

So while pizza is easy (and feels like a balm for your soul in the middle of the night) it’s not getting you any nutritional mileage. Your body can’t just give up, though, so it has to make do with what’s available.

And while your hunger is dispelled in the short-term, you’re running on your own fumes in the long term. You know that feeling, and it’s not pleasant.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that a bad day plus a general feeling of lethargy and grossness can easily combine to ramp up your stress.

Make dinner with some actual vegetables in it. Throw in regular physical activity and you’ll be amazed by how much better you feel. It doesn’t matter what it is–anything you can do to boost active time and reduce sedentary time will help.

Learning to Cope with Stress is Part of the Process

Learning to cope with stress is part of the process of veterinary school. It’s not your favorite part, but you’ll come out the other side stronger for having mastered it.

If you’re a current veterinary student, check out our available resources for students.

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