Best Meditation Apps to Manage Medical School Stress

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manage medical school stress

Struggling with (or afraid of) burnout in medical school? Here are our 4 favorite meditation apps for doctors-in-training 

As a doctor-in-training, your most valuable commodity is time.

Unfortunately, when you’re expected to give so much of it, grabbing a mid-shift cup of coffee or taking a much-needed mental health break can feel impossible. 

Regardless, it’s critical to take time for yourself and to practice self-care. Here’s why: this year, 42% of doctors surveyed (most of them mid-career) reported being burned out. 

While you’re still in the early stage of your medical career, building positive mental health habits early on can help you avoid burnout in the future. As medical professionals, we’re all aware of how stress (financial, emotional, physical, etc.) can impact our day-to-day lives. 

Enter meditation. This thousands-year-old practice—which focuses on in-the-moment mindfulness—touts a plethora of impressive benefits:

To help you prepare for and avoid potential burnout, we have compiled this list of our favorite stress-busting meditation apps and resources for re-centering, re-charging, and re-focusing.

Headspace

Crowned the “best meditation app” by the New York Times, Headspace offers a wide variety of guided, semi-guided, and unguided meditations. Each is aimed at helping you reduce stress, sleep better, and improve your overall health and wellbeing. With multiple meditations as short as one minute, it’s easy to see why this has become a fan-favorite in the medical community. 

Here are a few highlights of the Headspace app:

  • Beginner-friendly
  • 3-minute “SOS meditations” help you step away from worrying thoughts to reduce stress in the moment (one is aptly named, “Burned Out”)
  • Teaches you how to work around mind obstacles that get in the way of your meditation (e.g., trauma)
  • Letting Go of Stress— a short course to help you reframe and release negative emotions
  • Simple reminder system to get you in the habit of daily meditation
  • Laid-back music and serene sounds you can play on-demand

Through 2020, Headspace is free for all health care providers. Medical students don’t yet have the NPI required to activate this benefit, so instead can take advantage of free access as a member of the AMA. 

Visit Headspace.com for more information and to download.

Calm

Named by the Center for Humane Technology as “the world’s happiest app,” Calm is filled with hundreds of meditation practices written and recorded by some of the world’s top experts. You can find practically any type of meditation you want to help strengthen your mental fitness: whether your goal is a more restful sleep, a stronger ability to focus, to gently stretch your body, or just listen to relaxing nature sounds. If you’re new to meditation, the Calm app offers a personalized meditation journey for beginners. 

Here are a few highlights of the Calm app:

  • How to Meditate is advertised as a “simple 30-day program for everyone”—even beginners
  • The Power of Rest is a four-part series about how to “work better” and avoid burnout
  • Calm’s Emotions Series includes 10-minute meditations to understand and soothe burnout, grief, depression and anxiety—quick enough for a library-break, but long enough to have positive benefits!
  • Masterclass audio programs are taught by mindfulness experts as well as celebrities from across the globe—LeBron James even has a series on how to calm your mind and improve your mental fitness
  • Sleep Stories (aka bedtime stories for grownups) features soothing narratives read by celebrities including Matthew McConaughey, Scottie Pippen, Laura Dern, and Jerome Flynn

Calm does offer some of its resources for free, but the majority of its content is accessible only to paying subscribers. There is also a free one-week trial so you can “try before you buy.” 

Visit Calm.com for more information and to download.

Insight Timer

This app offers the world’s largest free library of 60,000+ guided meditations plus thousands of music tracks and ambient sounds to calm your mind, focus, sleep better and relax. Use the app’s flagship Insight Timer to set how long you wish to meditate, the number of intervals you prefer, and the background sound you’d like to use. Plus, its online meditation community is essentially a social network, letting you connect with thousands of other meditators from all over the world. 

Other Insight Timer highlights include:

  • Popular 7-day course on learning to meditate—a great resource for the uninitiated
  • Ability to set goals, track and pull up stats on your meditation progress
  • Choose your meditation based on music type, the health benefit you want (stress relief, better sleep etc.), your preferred faith and traditions, and the type of meditation you’d like to do (e.g., gentle repetition, yoga or otherwise)
  • Lots of minute-long and days-long lessons and courses specific to burnout meditation— which are a great way to set yourself for success before exams, or on difficult rotations

Visit InsightTimer.com for more information and to download.

The Mindfulness App

This app can be used by meditation newbies as well as gurus. There are about 250 meditations available on topics ranging from calmness, to dealing with negative emotions, to improving your focus. Sessions start at three minutes in length—making it ideal for on-the-go professionals. The app features guided and unguided meditations, as well as soothing background sounds that can be played on-demand. 

The Mindfulness App also offers the following features:

  • Try before you buy with a free 7-day trial
  • Meditation journal tracks your progress and provides statistics on how you’re doing—data will help your practice!
  • Reminder feature encourages you to meditate and be mindful daily. If this starts to feel like a burden with your already-overloaded schedule, this can be silenced.
  • Free seven-day course teaches you the fundamentals of mindfulness through guided meditation
  • Connect with the Apple Health App and Apple Watch, and witness your heart rate as you meditate 

Visit TheMindfulnessApp.com for more information and to download.

Free alternatives

There are a variety of apps available for free from the Department of Veteran Affairs, designed both for veterans and the general public.

These are evidence-based apps that can help with a variety of mental and physical health issues – mindfulness, alcohol and tobacco cessation, weight management and exercise programs.

For medical students and physicians, there are excellent options in the Mindfulness Coach, and Insomnia Coach.

Visit the VA App Store to see all their offerings.

Meditation takes practice

What types of meditation work best? 

It all depends on you and your preferences. What we love about the apps featured in this article is that each one offers multiple ways to reduce stress and improve mental health, that flex around your very limited time. Explore the options so you can find the best meditation app for you.

If you’re a beginner, you may find your mind wandering instead of relaxing. Our advice? Be patient with yourself. Over time, you will learn how best to bring your focus back to the moment at hand. Meditation is a technique that will improve over time with consistency and practice.

If financial stress is driving your burn-out, please see our products designed just for physicians to get your financial support fast: the PRN Personal Loan.

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