Choose & Control
Sometimes we cannot choose the situations that inflict stress such as the classes we take or setbacks in research. However, there are other times we overload ourselves with so many activities that we forget we have the choice to control what we take on. Do not over-commit. While it is good to be involved in other activities for stress-relief, without knowing the limits of what we can do, that can sometimes add to our already full plate. Instead of prioritizing in terms of importance, prioritize based on the amount of time you can commit.
You have worked hard and continue to walk a long, sometimes lonely path. Self-care means showing yourself appreciation for all that you have accomplished. Getting the degree is not the accomplishment by itself, but waking up everyday and showing up to a place that may have brought you more misery than joy at times, that is the accomplishment. When you take the time for self-appreciation, you open the mind to the courageous you. The one who says, “I have made it this far, I am ready to take on tomorrow knowing that I can make it to the end! ”
We spoke about exercising and living together with having a healthy diet. But do not forget, all of this only works if you give your body enough time to rest. Recharging is necessary for your mind to reset. A fresh mind, tends to be sharper and more patient. It is very difficult to get enough sleep in graduate school but you must carve out time to get a good night’s rest, at least 2-3 times a week. Chose a day where you are going to do completely nothing for a few hours. Call it your Relax Saturday or Sunday.
As hard as graduate school is, you are going to have some of your best memories there. Enjoy the moments and take advantage of opportunities. Take advantage of free conference or program trips. Take advantage of the networking and mentorship relationships you form. Also, take the opportunity to meet others outside of your discipline and just enjoy and be elated in other people’s company.
Part of self-care is knowing that in the hard moments, the right support system needs to be in your corner. It is important that you have supportive friends that are either surrounding you or in your network. These people should be dependable and should be people you can rely on when you are going through a challenging period. How do you find a support system? We will go into more detail in a later post, but all you need to ask yourself is, if you were to evaluate the people in your network, how many of them can you say would be in your support circle? Although there are many who may be located in your hometown or scattered across the world, you want to make sure that a dependable circle is formed at graduate school. Sometimes tears will come, and it is always great to have someone there to give you that hug and in-person pep talk you need.
You are probably asking yourself, when am I going to find time to exercise? Trust me, I know that after a long day, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym or do some type of physical activity. But, being physical helps with your mood and truly releases the stress of the day. It does not have to be a strenuous activity and it does not have to be gym only. It can be something as simple as a short hike or as involved as boxing. The key is to do it as regular as you can. Not only are you ensuring that you stay active and have healthy circulation (we tend to sit all day as graduate students), but you are allowing your mind to have a mental break. This is a time where you do not have to think about anything or the things you think of are irrelevant, which gives you that moment of a free mind.
You have chosen the graduate life of working hard and achieving some of the greatest accomplishments, but life is also about having the experiences. Remember to take time to truly live. Explore the area you in which you reside. Every place has a list of top 10 things to do, work your way through the list. Plan a trip with friends to somewhere you have always wanted to go. Try new hobbies such as cooking, painting, photography or volunteering. I enjoy volunteering because it puts things in perspective. We sometimes forget that the world and the problems around us are bigger and while we may be frustrated, someone else is in a worse position. Take time to enjoy the fact that you are blessed and this opportunity you have while stressful, is rare.
Feed your body the right type of fuel. What do I mean by the right type of fuel? Remember your body is the source of all your energy and knowledge. It’s like a rechargeable battery. You wouldn’t charge a battery with the wrong cord or put diesel in your only gasoline car, would you? It is the same as your body. Food affects your energy levels and your health. Although it was mentioned earlier that exercising is important, what is the point of exercising if you are treating your battery with the wrong fuel? We all love to indulge, but you want to make sure that when you indulge, you are also eating things that keep you 100% fueled and do not make you feel too tired and lethargic. Walk around with some fresh or dried fruits, nuts, carrots, crackers, and other light snacks to get you through the day. Also avoid eating large amounts of food at lunch that are going to affect your productivity in the afternoon.