I’m normally very proud of my holistic wellness choices. I prioritize my eight hours of sleep. I drink lots of water. I verbalize my feelings. I form relationship boundaries. I take days off. I take advantage of my preventative health care benefits. I stopped drinking soda and eating fast food. Husband and I cook together most nights, using fresh ingredients.
And then school starts and suddenly I’m going to bed at strange times and doing work on weekends and eyeing frozen pizza for dinner and eating one too many servings of chicken nuggets.
This isn’t my first graduate school rodeo, though, and if I can survive three years of hauling my ass to night class after full days of stealing babies (I worked for Child Protective Services), then I figured I’ve picked up a couple tips to help me through the next five years.
When I share my top two stress reliever tips of 1) having sex every day and 2) occasionally hiring someone to clean my house, people normally laugh it off as being unattainable, but never fear, here are a few other suggestions to get you through:
1. Schedule technology down time. You’ll be staring at your computer so much that your eyes will start crossing, so schedule an hour a day or one afternoon a week to completely unplug.
2. Take a day off. You’ll become less productive the more days you go without a break and your work effort will slowly start to decline. Prioritize at least one full day off per week to rest and recharge.
3. Spend time in nature. Humans were not designed to sit in classrooms and office chairs all day. Give your body a break by finding some green spaces and breathing in a little fresh air.
4. Prioritize. There will always be work looming over your head, so be sure to sort by importance level, due dates, and value. Don’t spend ten hours on a 1% grade project when you could be investing in something worth 50%. You probably won’t get to everything and that’s OK.
5. Build a support network outside of school. You are not a one dimensional person and having all your friends in one setting can start to feel a bit suffocating if you don’t spend time with anyone outside of your experience to remind you that there is other life on earth.
6. Maintain a schedule. Yes, there will be some nights later than others and classes that get you up at the crack of dawn, but as much as possible, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This will help your schedule feel more organized and will allow your body to understand the difference between study time and down time.
7. Save alcohol for the weekends. Yes, a crazy day may call loudly for a glass of wine, but it can also disrupt your sleep and make you feel groggy in the morning. Use it as a reward on your “off” day and be careful not to overdo it.
8. Track your eating. This is the hardest one for me, but graduate school seems to bring out the munchies like nothing else and before long, you’ll forget if you ate breakfast or go hours in night class without eating and suddenly, a whole package of Oreos sounds like a very good idea. Pack healthy snacks in your backpack to be prepared for food draughts and check in to make sure you eat something every couple hours.
9. Remember that your academic performance does not define you as a person. It is so easy to get sucked in to the competitiveness of graduate school and the stress of pursuing perfect grades that you can lose sight of worth, value, and beauty you possess just because you exist.
10. Know that life goes on. You’ll probably fail a test. Or forget an important due date. Or let down everyone on a group project. Or curse at your academic advisor. Or even realize that graduate school is not for you. And that’s OK. Brush yourself off and try again. Everyone has been there and is made stronger by experiencing an authentic you.
I’ve learned that graduate school is more an endurance game and that the people who tell you that you can’t live a balanced and healthy life during school are usually people who don’t have very happy lives outside of class.
We’ll see what I’m saying by Year #3.