Waiting can be loaded with anxiety, especially when you’re waiting for something as big as MATCH week. Your mind may wander. You may play out all the if/then scenarios about what’s next. The anticipation can drive you crazy! Putting it simply, the stress can be completely overwhelming, especially if you’re struggling with how to manage it. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with the anticipation and turn the MATCH process into a mindful experience that doesn’t throw your cortisol levels into overdrive.
To learn more, we asked fellow medspouse and Licensed Therapist, Erika Behunin, to provide some tips to help physician families get through MATCH week without losing their minds. Here are some tools she gave us to help:
Ground Yourself In The Present
“What’s next” is one of the most stressful questions before MATCH week, second only to the “will we MATCH” question. Learning to focus on the present moment and ground yourself in it is key to managing this stage of waiting. By training your mind to stay in the present, you can reduce your stress and improve your well-being.
Behunin recommends an exercise called “five, four, three, two, one”. This exercise involves using your senses to identify five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can smell, two things you can touch, and one thing you can taste. Using your senses to notice your surroundings anchors you in the present moment and reduces your mental chatter.
Another mindfulness technique Behunin suggests is journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you process them and reduce their intensity. Behunin recommends doing what she calls “emotional expression journaling”, which involves setting aside 20 minutes to write everything that comes to your mind, without censoring or judging yourself. This kind of journaling can help you release your emotions, understand them better, and communicate them more effectively.
When you’re finished writing, feel free to tear your paper from your journal, rip it up, and throw it away. Going through that process alone will bring you some stress relief!
Sometimes, the way we think about something can make things more difficult and create more pain for us. Behunin recommends looking inward to find out if you’re catastrophizing, imagining the worst-case scenario. Try to be mindful and ask yourself what are my thoughts about this and are these thoughts true.
Hold Space For Multiple Emotions
Waiting can generate a mix of feelings, such as gratitude, excitement, fear, anger, and sadness. Behunin emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and holding space for all of these emotions. Rather than denying or suppressing them, she advises accepting them as valid and natural responses to the situation. You can reduce the impact of such feelings on your mental and physical health by allowing yourself to feel and express your emotions.
Channel Your Inner Strength
Take this time to practice building resilience and know you can do hard things. To build your confidence, Behunin recommends bringing your ‘thinking brain’ back online and taking note of your inner strengths. What are some things you’ve done in the past that were difficult? What strengths do you have to take with you from those experiences? What strengths do you have that can help your spouse or your kids? This will help you remember how strong you really are.
Lean On Your Support System
In addition to mindfulness and journaling, Behunin suggests having conversations with your support system as a way to cope with waiting. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or family member can help you gain perspective, receive support, and feel less alone. Sometimes, just talking about things can help you gain clarity and boost your morale.
Behunin suggested a practical tool for managing uncertainty is by envisioning the medical journey as a book, with each chapter representing a different stage or challenge. This allows us to see difficult moments as part of our story and acknowledge that they won’t last forever. It also creates space for healing and self-compassion, which are essential for coping with the stress and anxiety of the medical journey.
Acknowledge Difficult Moments
Acknowledging the moment you’re in is another important aspect of managing uncertainty. Behunin recommends using visualization to help with this – putting your hand over your heart and saying, “This is a hard moment. This is part of being human.” By greeting difficult moments and acknowledging them, we can move forward and create space for healing.
The medical journey is full of uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety, especially when it comes to the MATCH process. Remember, the algorithm is far from perfect and the results do not define who you (or your spouse/partner) are or what you (or your spouse/partner) can do.
No matter what, you can always fall back on the wisdom of the old Irish proverb, “what’s meant for you shall not pass you” to get through tough times.
Looking for more? Find out how The MedCommons supports physician families during MATCH through our ‘Mastering Your Move’ event. Erika offers Teletherapy services for those located in Idaho or Utah, as well as coaching options for those nationwide who are navigating the unique stressors that are ever present throughout the medical journey. She also offers an Emotional Regulation Workbook which could help you better understand and manage all the emotions around MATCH.