Midway through the semester, I often hit a concrete wall. The fatigue and the stress of the first half of the semester builds up and it’s increasingly difficult to balance the demands of teaching with my own research.
Anxiety and depression are a ubiquitous part of grad school. Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno wrote a lovely piece for Drown Unbound on this topic just last month, and this issue is so prevalent that GradHacker, the grad-centric blog for The Chronicle of Higher Ed, has an entire category of posts devoted to the topic. I am also particularly invested in the current conversation about the emotional labor disproportionately performed in the academy by women and people of color. Buzzfeed even devoted one of my personal favorite listicles to #PhDproblems.
Much excellent advice on the general topic of managing anxiety already exists, and all of the usual anxiety management tools apply: eat healthy foods, get adequate sleep, maintain a work-life balance, practice mindfulness, exercise regularly, etc. These are all best practices, of course, that improve quality of life overall. I am writing, though, to address specifically those weeks when the excitement of the new semester has faded, the pre-spring break anticipation is past, and the brief post-spring break energy jolt is spent. Soon enough, the thrill of impending summer break will kick in, but if history has taught me anything, it’s that the next few weeks will be killer. Thus, I am writing to consider a few short-term ideas to tide you over until that expectant elation kicks in.
- Talk it Out
Whether it’s commiseration or sharing ideas, chatting with colleagues is uniquely energizing. This is my favorite time to attend pedagogy workshops, because I’m guaranteed to come away with new ideas I’m excited to implement in my class. Of course, informal discussions in the common room or the writing center work just as well! Look for the remaining pedagogy workshop dates in the forthcoming “What’s Happening in April” post.
- Create Google Calendar Alerts
Stress can lead to impaired memory function. It’s harder to keep
track of your commitments, and, if you’re anything like me, you might start to let things slip. Take a long look at your calendar, update it if necessary, and set up Google alerts for yourself! This way, if your memory fails, you have a backup to remind you. Sometimes I even set multiple reminders—one for three days ahead so I have time to prepare for the meeting in question, one for the day before so I fix it in my mental schedule, and for a few hours ahead of time just in case I’m extra stress-anxiety spacey.
- Take Stock
Way back in my first semester, the practicum assistant (the illustrious Michael Albright) suggested that we take time around spring break to give informal midterm evaluations to our classes. Pedagogically speaking, this is wildly useful—I usually ask my students to say what’s working/not working for them in the class and what they’d like to see more of/less of. I get to step back and see how I’m doing, and it also allows students to be reflective in a way that often says more about themselves as a class than me as a teacher. For instance, many of them generally say that class discussions are slow and awkward, making it hard to participate. The solution, I respond, is for everyone to make a small, additional effort. Last week, when we discussed the trends in the evaluations, I asked them all to make a pledge to speak at least once during class (they actually had to raise their right hands and repeat after me). Thus, we all, student and teacher alike, took stock of our performance and resolved to alter our behavior accordingly.
Taking stock extends to our own research/coursework, as well. Think about everything you’ve done so far this semester and everything left you’d like to do. Reflection isn’t just for our students!
- Plan Ahead
Something to consider for the summer: a major part of my anti-anxiety initiative is to do as much prep work for my class as possible before the semester begins. The most useful planning, I find, is to write drafts of my assignment sheets along with my syllabus. Then, all I have to do is tweak and edit based on the particularities of our class discussions. (Alternately, totally pillage the FYW coursesite page and/or accept your friends’ offers of assignment sheet examples.) Minimizing the materials I have to write from scratch is a huge weight off my shoulders during that stressful mid-semester period.
Hopefully this helps you get through the next few weeks! Please chime in if you have additional suggestions and ideas for limiting stressors during the semester.
More meme-y grad school lols from #whatshouldwecallgradschool
“Managing Mental Illness in Graduate School: Some Recommendations,” The Professor is In
“Academia and Mental Illness: A Preliminary List of Resources,” The Professor is In
“Emotional Labor: The Pink-Collar Duties of Teaching,” from Currents in Teaching and Learning