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10 Tips for Staying (somewhat) Sane in Graduate School

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.

Photo by Joshua Earle, Creative Commons
Photo by Joshua Earle, Creative Commons

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.

Lindsay Sig

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14 comments on “10 Tips for Staying (somewhat) Sane in Graduate School

  1. LINDSEY!! This is probably one of the most succinct and yet thoroughly balanced plan, and not only for graduate school! (I helped put my husband through 6 years at IU Bloomington with three small children and a parttime job. So you go, girl!!) Thanks for such a helpful post! I would add a little exercise, even just walking, but then I must also admit my hypocrisy, as I’m having trouble getting that in, too. Thanks for such good and practical insights!!

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  2. #3 really is very difficult especially when you’ve been staring at the computer for five days of the week..

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  3. Wow nice plan! sounds like you have got it figured out! I like the points on the plan very smart!

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  4. bkwriter4life

    This is a great plan! Sometimes when you’re in the mix, you forget to take care of yourself. #2 – Take a Day Off, really resonates with me because I’m always on the go, go, go, plan all the time. Thanks for sharing this list! Cheers!

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  5. I’m in the second of 3 semesters of my Masters program and I am FEELING THIS right now. Thanks for the tips!

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  6. Thank you for this! I just started my first year of grad school, and this is a great list to read BEFORE I get in over my head. Number nine is the hardest for me and I just may write it on a post-it note for days I don’t quite get what I hoped for.

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  7. I am into my first year of Grad school, and there are days I wake up and don’t know where to begin—well, everyday. So, I begin with anything, but a schedule. I fall into a groove half way through the morning, but I lag. Do I start with homework or house work, or do I walk the dog or do yoga, when should I eat? And how do I do this everyday, never leaving the house, and not freak out and feel like Im in prison, coffee breaks with friends. Thanks for the reminder to take a break, and that it’s okay, and that my school work does not define me as a person.

    Liked by 1 person

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