Using Stress to Your Advantage

NECO is paused right now for Thanksgiving break, and I am home in Buffalo, New York, surrounded by a foot of snow and the remnants of my family’s Thanksgiving feast. Due to the once-in-a-lifetime intersection of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, I’ve spent the past few days baking apple and chocolate pies and making potato latkes and turkey with my family. It’s the calm before the storm of final exams, which begin less than two weeks after I return to school, and it’s given me a chance to pause and reflect on the fact that I only have a year and a half left before I graduate and become an optometrist.

It’s incredible to think that I’m more than halfway done with school. I’ve had such an amazing time so far at NECO, and I’ve been continuously learning throughout. I’ve been especially enjoying my clinic rotation this semester, learning by interacting with patients and trying to understand more about, in particular, glaucoma management and pediatric optometry.

Although overall I’ve felt confident that hard work, perseverance, dedication to studying, and my drive to succeed would help me to face the challenges of optometry school, I’ve also grappled with a lot of stress. In college, I was stressed that I might not be accepted to optometry school; when I was accepted and began my optometric education at NECO, I began to stress about the workload and developing my clinical skill set. Stress is something that all students face, and at the same time something that all students desperately try to avoid. However, the key to managing your stress in optometry school, I’ve found, is not to avoid it, but to use it to your advantage.

First and second year are very coursework-heavy years, and there is a great deal of stress that comes with taking five to seven challenging classes, all filled with information that we will utilize later in our careers and need to recall for boards. Stress during first and second year comes in bursts before midterms, finals, and proficiency exams, and it can often be difficult for students to manage, especially at first. Exam week, and the pressure of studying so much material at once, can feel intimidating. It’s crucial, however, to prevent stress from becoming an overwhelming force, and instead to use it as inspiration and motivation to study consistently for each class instead of simply near the exam.

Stress doesn’t have to be negative, threatening, or disturbing–if you use it the right way, it can be the opposite: positive, motivational, and helpful. If you feel stressed about an exam or a certain topic in school, it’s a sign that you need to study more or work harder to master it. Instead of letting stress control you, it’s crucial that you instead take control of your stress and use it as a tool to inspire you to immerse yourself in a certain area. Learning in optometry school is very different from learning in high school or college: you need to retain and utilize your knowledge here for the duration of your career, and instead of viewing exams as concentrated stressful periods, optometry students should view them as ways to evaluate your current knowledge within the framework of a continuous learning process.

This year, the stress we face is different. We have fewer classes, and we need to be prepared to learn in clinic each week, but the major source of our current stress is board exams in March. Mentioning boards is a guaranteed way to make any third year enter a cycle of stressful thinking. But instead of letting boards intimidate us, we need to take their difficulty and comprehensive nature and let it instead inspire us to start studying earlier, to study thoroughly, and to learn the information in a way that will allow us to access it throughout our careers.