Beating fatigue with beats: How music motivates me when I’m dragging

Music has been my constant companion in med school. It helps me when I’m not “feeling it” and even reduces my anxiety. Here are the playlists and songs that work for me.

Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece; the views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

I’ve always been strongly influenced by music. I can hear a certain lyric and my mood can suddenly change. There are songs that evoke memories and it’s almost like I’m back in that moment.

Research and data can probably explain this phenomenon. I prefer to believe in the magic because I’m afraid if I unmasked the science, I would be immune to the power. I’m a fourth-year medical student. There is an abundance of science in my life, but not much magic.

One of my most-loved mentors once told me that medical school was going to be full of moments where I had to hold my nose and power through, which has stayed in the back of my mind since day one. I realized that I needed a little back-up for those days when I just didn’t have it in me to sit through a lecture with 160 way smarter people.

The playlist

It started with a playlist called Monday, filled with up-tempo, get-you-moving songs that kept you from realizing you bopped yourself straight up to anatomy lab and grabbed a bone saw with the confidence of an orthopedic surgeon. Monday’s title had to be changed pretty quickly because it was being used on days that weren’t Monday. Like Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And sometimes Friday.

It is still in my playlists, now dubbed “I Don’t Want To.”

I’m not really a superstitious type, but I have some quirks that show up around exam time.

I don’t like to discuss the exam with fellow students the morning of a test. I feel like if I start talking, everything will come flying out of my mouth and when the exam starts there will be nothing left. But anyone who has ever been to medical school also knows that the moments before an exam can be rife with students quizzing each other aloud.

This gives me anxiety – like, paralyzing anxiety. So I started stuffing my earbuds in my ears and playing another wonderful playlist called “Study.” It really wasn’t ideal studying music. It was really loud ’80s hair band music that drowned out the gunners. If my seatmates looked over and saw the name of the playlist, they would think I was cramming. But I was melting my brain with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

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The musical Rx

Thinking about this article, I wanted to convey what an important asset music can be to a medical student. It isn’t just about motivating me to do things that I find unpleasant. It’s about being in the present rather than always looking to a far-off point where you’ll finally be happy.

Music keeps you in a moment and puts a stamp on it, so you can someday look back fondly. As the last four years played out, an overall playlist for life evolved. Certain songs remind me of the journey. There is a song for every moment and emotion, available for any med student’s motivational toolbox.

Download and listen to “Study” and “I Don’t Want To” on Spotify. Happy listening!

For further reading:

Burnout and residency: Focus on growth at work instead of time off, DO writes 

5 facets of physician burnout

5 ways to maintain mental wellness and avoid burnout

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