Cooking as stress relief

Video: 3 easy, healthy recipes for busy med students and doctors

In medical school, I cook to de-stress, and I’ve mastered the art of preparing simple, delicious meals quickly.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on The Palate.org and has been edited for length, clarity and tone. It has been reposted here with permission.

Throughout my education I’ve sat for tons of exams—from small subject tests to state exams, finals and the MCAT. To handle my test anxiety, many have suggested deep breathing exercises, yoga, and other relaxation techniques, but those didn’t work for me.

I found baking. The night before big exams, I would bake cookies for my whole class. I would take an hour out of my evening to focus on something that wasn’t school and it worked to relieve my stress and anxiety. Plus, I got to eat cookies the next day! Once I got to medical school though, I realized that perhaps eating cookies before each exam was not the healthiest option, and my pre-test ritual was too time-consuming.

I needed to come up with some proactive ways to excel in medical school, manage my anxiety, and stay healthy. By creating simple, easy and delicious recipes that take under 15-20 minutes to prepare, it distracts me for a minimal amount of time but enough to get my anxiety down to that baseline.

Medicine on the mind

After five hours of board studying in the mornings and four hours of lecture review in the evenings, time and energy quickly fade. As board studying increased, even these recipes were starting to get hard to find time to make. I had to figure out something to continue my passion and continue without increasing my anxiety when thinking about boards.

I started an Instagram account, @cookingforboards, and created recipes to relate to board-relevant topics. For example, I posted a recipe for meatballs and reminded myself about Malassezia Furfur. I made another recipe for one-pan chicken and onion and reviewed pathognomonic onion skinning on histology. I was still able to take a break from studying to cook and help myself and my fellow peers remember board-relevant topics.

I made a delicious and easy one pan chicken recipe for this weekend. I used a bag of baby carrots, one onion sliced, 4 potatoes sliced into rounds, 10 gloves of garlic and a chicken cut into 8ths. First I put the veggies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and then on top of the veggies I placed my chicken. I drizzled olive oil on all of it, then sprinkled salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Placed in the oven on 350 for an hour and 20 minutes. But while making this delicious easy and hearty meal I was reminded of onion skinning in histology. Onion skinning is seen in a few places but the one we just learned about is primary sclerosing cholangitis which causes obliterative fibrosis of intrahepatic and extrahepatic bile ducts. It is commonly associated with inflammatory bowel diseases especially UC. Can anyone name some other places and diseases that would cause onion skinning appearance? #cookingforboards #delicious #easy #simple #recipes #chicken #chef #onepan #dinner #onionskinning #onion #vegetables #pathology #histology #step1 #boards #usmle #comlex #gastrointestinal #disease #studying #cooking

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Balancing healthy living and school 

Taking care of yourself really embodies the tenets of osteopathic medicine because we are trained to view the person as a whole: mind, body and spirit. So if we want our mind to work, we also need to focus on our body and spirit, which includes taking care of yourself by eating healthy, exercising and taking some time for relaxation.

Cooking every day also helped me take care of myself. I want to ensure that I become the best physician I can be. This means I need to study hard at school, but also that I am healthy and well for my future patients.

I know from my studies that it is important to eat meals throughout the day, but sometimes when you are sitting at your desk doing practice questions and reviewing notes, time escapes you. Cooking reminds me that I need to eat at least three meals a day plus snacks and have some down time for myself. While not all my recipes are 100% healthy, most of them have a healthy spin that emphasize the importance of having a well-balanced meal consisting of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates.

Hopefully medical students will continue to use cooking and other creative outlets to keep up the balance between their academics and home life. While us future doctors are extraordinary, we are people too. We need to eat, we need to socialize, we need to sleep and we need to find ways to manage our stress and anxiety.

    2 comments

    1. This post reminds me of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (17th century Mexican poet), who famously said, “If Aristotle had cooked, he would have written more.” There’s a lot of science in the kitchen!

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