I’m getting close to the end of my second semester of grad school. It’s been a great opportunity to learn, to meet new people, to build skills, and to have fun. It’s also stressful. Course loads are different than in undergrad (which was almost 10 years ago for me). On top of that, you’re also teaching (or in my case tutoring), plus working other jobs, and right now you’re navigating all the Covid-19 stuff as well. Plus, there’s often other “life happens” sorts of things going on. By the end of the semester, people look half-zombie.
Everyone deals with stress, regardless of whether or not they’re in grad school, and self-care is something we all need to make time for. That “making time for” part can be particularly tricky, though, when you’re juggling multiple jobs, classes, research projects, and eventually a thesis. With that in mind, here are some of the self-care things that I’ve been doing during my first year of grad school. I hope others will find these tips helpful as well. Share any other tips you have in the comments!
1) Go for walks
This is one of the more time-consuming things on the list, but it’s also one of the ones that’s most helpful. A few times a week, I go walking for about half an hour. Not only does exercise help keep you physically healthy, it also gives you a short break from all the sitting and reading that’s so much a part of grad school. This ticks several boxes on the self-care list: exercise, giving your eyes a rest from studying, and giving your brain a chance to process everything you’ve been learning. You’ll likely find yourself more relaxed and better able to focus after taking a short walk.
2) Keep to some kind of a routine
Routines are a difficult thing to come by when your schedule is changing every semester and may even be different from one day to the next. Keeping something consistent can be a big help in making you feel like you have some control and stability in your life, which can help lower the anxiety that’s often such a big part of grad school. I’ve done this with my morning routine of prayer/Bible study, yoga, shower, and breakfast. You might find that a morning routine works for you, too, or maybe that it’s better to have a bedtime routine, or something that you do over a lunch break to help you re-center and focus.
3) Schedule a weekly reset
Resting one day out of the week has a long history in Christianity. Much of the world (even within churches) has moved away from a Sabbath, but there is still great value in taking God up on His offer of rest. Non-Christians can benefit from this principle as well by scheduling time every week for some more extensive self-care. Schedule something with a friend, do a mini retreat in your home, shut off your phone or email for a day. For me, I eat a nice meal Friday night (since Shabbat goes from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), take a relaxing bath, play a low-stress game or read, then spend Saturday fellowshipping with other believers. After a long week of work, study, and life it’s so nice to be able to spend one day at the end of the week relaxing and resetting before starting it all over again next week.
4) Eat and sleep
Food and sleep are basic human needs, yet for some reason they seem the easiest to forget or push to the side when you’re in school. Dinner? That’s a snack between work and class, then maybe I’ll eat something at 9:00 tonight when I get home. Sleep? is that the thing where you fall into bed after writing like a maniac and hope you pass-out until your alarm goes off? I see the undergrads I work with skipping this self-care, I see my classmates doing it, and I catch myself doing it as well. I’m not as consistent about practicing this self-care tip as I should be, but most of the time I manage to make myself eat 3 meals a day and get 7 hours of sleep (which is what I’ve figured out I need in order to stay healthy and awake). Some of the best things you can do to take care of yourself are to eat as healthy as you can, don’t skip meals, and figure out how much sleep you need then make sure you get it as consistently as possible.
5) Say “no” when you need to
It’s good to say “yes” to a lot of the opportunities that come your way in grad school. But it’s also helpful to know when you need to say “no” and give yourself permission to do that. You’re human, and you can’t be on every committee, go to every conference, or re-adjust your schedule to convenience everyone in your life. If you’re not sure you have time for something, it’s okay to tell someone you need to check your schedule and get back with them, and then say “yes” or “no” depending on what you can realistically fit into your life. It won’t do you any good to take on more projects than you can complete successfully, or to say “yes” to something that’s going to rob so much time from something essential (like eating and sleeping) that you end up getting sick.
Grad school is fun and crazy, and I’m still figuring it out, but I am getting better at making sure I practice the self-care I need in order to stay physically healthy and mentally alert. When I take care of my own needs, then I can be more fully present for the things that I want and need to do, and for the people I want to work with.
Are you thinking about going to grad school? Currently in grad school? Survived grad school and moved on to something new? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Everyone (whether you’ve been to university or not) share your favorite self-care tips in the comments!
Featured image by Tiny Tribes from Pixabay