Mind, Body, Spirit

How photography became my self-care during medical school

My first two months were some of the most challenging as I became adjusted to a whole new life, friends, pressures and never-ending stress.

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7 a.m. Right on the dot, my alarm blares. I groan as I slowly crawl out of bed, dreading another full day of studying. Since I started medical school, each day has consisted of space-barring through flashcards, watching lectures and reading PowerPoints in an endless cycle. Each minute spent doing something other than studying feels like a minute wasted. At the time, I didn’t have an outlet for self-care during medical school, because it wasn’t as high a priority.

Each precious minute counts, otherwise I will feel immediately “behind,” setting myself up for failure. Everywhere I turn, my classmates appear to feel the same. Everyone seems to be struggling with the pressure of medical school with no direction on how to optimize studying without feeling like you’re drowning. My first two months of M1 year were some of the most challenging as I became adjusted to a whole new life, new friends, new pressures and seemingly never-ending stress.

Basra has gotten to see many stunning views from behind her camera lens.

The path to realizing this overwhelming work could lead to burnout

At first, I attempted to aimlessly do thousands of flashcards a day, hoping each day that the information would stick in my head. However, after each exam, I still felt the same. Drained. Not only mentally, but of each fact of knowledge that I had just meticulously studied.

As we progressed further into anatomy and microbiology, I started to feel anxiety that I had never felt before. School began to leave me feeling that even talking to my family and friends from home on the phone was a poor use of time that could be used to study. I was in disbelief that the period of my life that I had spent my whole life looking forward to had become a stressful nightmare. 

I began to realize that this would not be sustainable long-term. I needed to make a change and find an outlet to decompress. I tried meditation, yoga and journaling. I thought these would feel relaxing, but I failed to realize right away that self-care can look different for everyone. Journaling has always felt like a chore and meditation began to bore me, so these didn’t feel like the right choice for me, even though they might be great suggestions for other people.

I turned to the gym, which had been a great stress reliever for me since undergrad, allowing myself two hours of “me” time to just focus on myself. However, during this particular time I dreaded going to the gym because I found I had no energy after studying to do the workouts that I had once considered easy. I felt at a loss.

Finding what works best for me

After trying out these options and not finding one that fit what I needed, I then received one of the best pieces of advice. My mother told me to stop focusing on making everything perfect and attempting to do everything everyone else was. She told me to focus on what made me happy and everything would slowly fall into place. I considered this, and my semester finally began to take a turn. 

Basra's love of photography has taken her on many travels.

I forced myself to find new places to study and made it a priority to take a small, fun break every day. Whether it was taking my dog on a walk to watch the sunset by the water or exploring a new coffee shop with a friend, I began to make time for hobbies other than pressing the space bar all day.

I slowly started to appreciate the beauty in little moments again and appreciate the value of time. Between taking the time to make myself a delicious meal or heading to the beach, I began to document the moments that made me happy and rediscover my love of photography.

I had always loved to capture moments ever since I had gotten my first iPhone. Regardless of if I wanted to vlog a memory to preserve what I was feeling or take a photograph of architecture that I liked, I relied on looking through these happy moments when I wasn’t feeling well later or when I needed a brain break from all the work. This led me to consider photography as my new stress-relieving outlet, and to take a new look at the world around me.

Falling in love with photography again

Taking pictures has always been a simple part of my life that has allowed me to see the beauty in small things, whether it was a cool graffiti wall or the beautiful colors of a sunset. With the development of high-quality smartphone cameras, the perfect shot never seems to be far away. It gives me the opportunity to focus on something with less stakes on my future.

After falling in love again with photography, and learning how to use it as a form of self-care, I was able to focus on what I could keep within the frame and what I was able to leave out. I found beauty in the simple things again, and I fell in love with the world around me. I finally began to feel more in tune with myself and what matters the most – taking good care of myself and my mental health to better every aspect of my life, especially my studies.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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