Teaching Medical Students About Stress

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In our very first year, we had a module called “Personal and Professional Development”, where we were taught how to deal with stress and gender equality issues, and wherein one lecturer literally went on his knees and begged us not to smoke (about half of my class smokes now).

Lately, we have had a module called “Health and Disease in the Community”, which is kind of like Family Medicine and kind of like PPD for the patient instead of the student.

Anyway, one of our lectures was about stress, stress management and the effect on a patient’s health. The Boy loves graphs, I find them annoying. These though… I like them. A lot of these concepts are half-common knowledge but half-unacknowledged.

The graph alongside illustrates eustress vs. distress. “Eu” generally means “normal” or well – as in, “euthymic” when one is not hypo- or hyperthymic. What the graph illustrates is that up to a certain point, stress encourages good performance. After a peak, though, increased stress causes exhaustion and distress. What this specific graph does not show is the very really possibility of boredom in the absence of some stress.

That’s why some people claim to “thrive on stress” – I’ve claimed that very often. Most recently, as my term on student government has been drawing to a close, I’ve been wondering why I always wanted more to do, and these days I just wanted to do less. I suppose that according to this graph, my stress levels will have exceeded that which is conducive to good performance.

This graph is my favourite. It indicates the response to any stressor – how one requires time to adapt to the change and how that adaptation can give rise to a favourable response. And how it can turn ugly if not controlled. I like this one because it fits well with the idea of all stressors – physical and psychological.

We all laughed when we heard we were having lectures on stress – what do these people think we’ve done all these years? But I’m happy to report that I learnt something.

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