Originally Posted: Apr 10, 2012
Last Updated: May 20, 2020
Any worthwhile graduate course of study is bound to cause some stress in the life of a student. Remember: if your program didn’t challenge you at the highest level, it wouldn’t be worth it. That said, sometimes we make it hard on ourselves to de-stress. Procrastination, lack of sleep, and taking on too much work are frequent symptoms of burn-out. If you find yourself “burning the candle at both ends,” try these techniques to bring a little relief!
Take your electronics away from where you sleep
We’re all guilty of studying in bed, cross-legged, furiously typing away at a last-minute paper, but studies have shown that our bodies becomes conditioned with routines. If you consistently use your bed as your office-space, it will be harder for you to mentally “switch off” once you climb under the covers. If possible, do most of your computer-work at a desk or kitchen table, away from your bedroom (or at least a few feet away from your bed).
Fight insomnia with a total black-out
Noise, light, and cold are three of the most common things that can prevent us from drifting off. If you have street lights or a neighbor’s lamp shining in through your bedroom window, consider covering them up with a large blanket before you hit the hay. Try to make your bedroom as pitch-black as possible. Buy some ear plugs, even if you don’t have noisy roommates. With them in, you’ll be able to listen to your heartbeat, which will lull you to sleep more quickly after a stressful day. Take the plugs to the library to get a more focused study-session in as well!
Exercise, even in small bursts
We all know we should exercise, but it can be tough to find even 30-60 minutes a day to go for a jog or take a Pilates class. Even if you have no time to get a true workout in, make yourself take at least three five-minute stretch/meditation breaks—one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one before bedtime. For each break, set your phone alarm for five minutes and quickly stretch out on the floor. Stretch out your spine and listen to yourself breathe. This will allow your muscles (especially those around your head and shoulders) to relax into the floor, and remove any tension you may be subconsciously “holding” in your body.
Yes, you're in grad school, so money is probably tight. But sometimes it's worth spending a little cash to get some peace of mind. So instead of trying to handle school AND the demands of daily life (I.e., keeping yourself and possibly others clean, fed, and clothed), outsource some of those chores!
If you have kids, a couple hours of peace to study or relax might make the money you have to pay a sitter the best $20 or $30 you've ever spent. Order takeout and drop off your laundry for someone else to do. All of these things require some expenditures, but consider them an investment in your sanity.
Look out for #1
Sometimes, what you really need to do is take a nap, go for a run, or sit quietly in a room staring at a blank wall. Even though midterms can be hectic, don't be afraid to be a little bit greedy with your time, and allocate a chunk of it to maintaining your own mental health. Flight attendants have it right: you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others.
Don't be afraid to look for support
Sometimes, self-care isn't enough, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Know what resources your school makes available to grad students and take advantage of them; they might include stress-management seminars, individual counseling, or other options. These services are there to help. Let them. How do you cope with stress? Let us know on Twitter!
For more content like this, check out our graduate school section.