How To Avoid Burnout and Take Care Of Yourself During Your Step 1 Study Period

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Here’s how self-care and planning ahead can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed during your Step 1 study period.

    Burnout is a problem for medical students. And it’s easy to understand why. The pressures of coursework, plus studying for the impending USMLE Step 1 Exam or COMLEX Level 1 Exam (or both!) can be overwhelming. Given how much they have to do, many medical students just don’t feel like they can keep up with their schedule and workload demands.

    If you’re preparing to take a big exam this spring, you may think burnout is unavoidable. It’s not! You can take some small steps now that will help you feel like you’re staying in control, even when you have a lot going on. Here’s our tips for how medical students can avoid burnout while studying for Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1.

    1. Pace yourself!

    Trying to do too much all at once, especially if you’ve been procrastinating on your Step 1 or Level 1 prep, is very likely to result in burnout! An aggressive schedule with too many pages to read, questions to go over, or lectures to watch in a given day is a surefire way to feel overwhelmed. Instead, be realistic about what you think you can accomplish in a certain amount of time, and plan your study schedule around what you can accommodate, while making certain you get through everything you’ve chosen for Step 1/Level 1 prep.

    We highly recommend that you get started early on your study plan for Step 1 or Level 1. Even before your dedicated study period, you can begin answering Qbank questions. Even a small number like 10 a day will help you get familiar with the exam’s format and content.

    2. Plan free time in your schedule so you can take breaks.

    Even though you feel like you have to hyper-utilize every waking moment of your day, scheduling time off from studying is important, and will help you feel human. Studies show that taking regular breaks actually HELPS you retain information and memorize concepts more effectively. So during study sessions, every two hours or so, make sure you take a small break from the books to recharge. Go take a walk, eat a healthy snack, or do a 10-minute meditation session. You can also plan to take a set day or half-day off from studying per week.

    3. Get enough sleep.

    In addition to taking regular breaks, it’s important to try and keep a regular sleep schedule. Making sure you get enough sleep is critical in avoiding burnout. Adequate sleep, which for most people is about seven hours per night, also allows the brain to process new information and encode it into memory. Sleep also helps the body to self-regulate; without adequate sleep, it’s more difficult to control our behavior and direct ourselves towards our goals, such as studying hard to get a good score. Plus, isn’t it just obvious that when you’re tired it’s difficult to concentrate?

    4. Eat right!

    Eating well is also important. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and try to limit your intake of “junk” and processed foods. Swap out candy or salty snacks from the vending machine with more fruits and vegetables. Fueling your body and mind with healthy, whole foods will help you get through high-stress times and long periods of studying. We like this list of healthy, affordable snacks you can eat while you study that’ll keep your brain and body in top shape.

    Side note: Did you know the brain uses up to 20% of your body’s total energy per day? Imagine how hard it’s working as you study for the USMLE or COMLEX. Treat it right by eating healthy and you should have improved energy and cognitive performance!

    Final thought: How you can implement tips 1 and 2

    While we’re not sleep coaches or dietitians, where we can help you is with tips 1 and 2. Use a detailed study plan and the scheduling features from Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner to see exactly how you’re doing in terms of getting through all the resources you’ve chosen to prepare for USMLE Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1. And use the “time off” feature to schedule in recurring “days off.” By doing this, you’ll build a schedule that allows you to take those days off and still get through all of your materials.

    In fact, one student from Ross University told us, “It is very important to take time for yourself throughout your preparation process to prevent burnout. Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner is definitely a great tool to prevent burnout because you can schedule your free time.”

    Great, so it can help prevent burnout. But what does it cost? Nothing! That’s right, Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner is free!

    Thousands of medical students use Blueprint's Med School Study Planner to save hours of planning time, see exactly what to do each day, and ace their med school exams. Get unlimited FREE access today!

    Let Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner take away the stress of planning and managing a study plan for USMLE Step 1, Step 2, COMLEX, and your shelf exams. Get FREE unlimited access today and create your personalized study plan in minutes!

    Click on the link and give it a try. What do you have to lose, except burnout?


    About the Author

    Erica Forrette is the former Director of Marketing at Cram Fighter.