We’ve hit that point in the semester when it’s time to roll up your sleeves and put the pedal to the metal. Classes become hectic as you’re responsible for keeping up with reading loads and researching and producing papers simultaneously. In all this pressure to perform, and the increasingly distracting nice weather, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself.
To acknowledge this stressful period and to continue the conversations on mental health and well being (like Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno’s one on mental health issues in graduate school or this one with advice for surviving graduate school curated by Emily Shreve), here are some tips on how to balance wrapping up graduate semester coursework and the rest of your life.*
- WRITE IT DOWN
Write it all down. Write it all down in a single space. I stress the two things here that have helped me successfully manage my responsibilities. People around the department probably notice me writing and staring at my agenda multiple times a day (perhaps with a look of despair…yay grad school?). This activity keeps me focused and on track.
And when I say all, I mean all. It’s not just my graduate coursework, my teaching, and meetings, but also when I will exercise, when I will hang out with a friend, or when I’m going to plan meals and go grocery shopping that I list and most importantly schedule to do.
I make sure to do this in one space; my physical, tangible agenda that I take with me everywhere. I made the mistake one year of trying to manage a digital list(I do still love Wunderlist), a digital calendar, and a physical one. I wound up confusing dates and times, missing one thing here and a thing there. It was a mess, and not fully useful (and only led to me wasting a bunch of time. Productive procrastination am I right?)
2. SELF-CARE & EXERCISE
Our society harps on exercise a lot, but even its just a walk down the hill (or maybe someplace flatter?) can help. We spend a lot of time in our heads, sometimes the shift to physical activity can improve our mental acuity and offer a nice break. (Productive procrastination, we meet again…)
And if you feel up for it, try something new during the semester. Maybe rent a bicycle in Bethlehem and tour the city or take a yoga class at YogaMos with some friends. If you spend so much time challenging your powers of analysis, challenging your ability to stay upright on a bicycle might be equally rewarding.
And self care can take many forms. Ask yourself what brings you joy, and indulge yourself. Whether it’s taking a bath, fancy tea, a shopping spree, a baseball game, or going out to your favorite bar, take the time to do what you love. You’ll be better positioned to conquer that to do list for it.
Keep the promise to take care of yourself as seriously as you take that paper deadline. Rationally, you are worth more than a paper, even if that gets lost in the moment.( I *may* be very guilty of not following this.)
3. BE SOCIAL
Your cohort is your new family. Spend time in the department (The Writing Center is great!) Go see a movie or better yet hit up the Film Club every night at 6. When you need to accomplish a lot of work, doing it with others can make it seem less daunting. (Anybody want to work on my porch with me? I mean it. Pretty please?). Often, I find I’m more productive when everyone else is working around me than a would be at home by myself…with Netflix close by…
Plan your meals. Remember that thing about writing it down? Yeah, well, this goes for meals to. If you know what you’re going to have before you’re hungry, you’re more likely to eat that than the box of knock-off girl scout cookies in your pantry. Food is what fuels us, and without proper fuel our writing goes to sh*t. So eat that rabbit food and own it. Then present that most magical piece of writing ever written.
Not the planner, well maybe think about starting a potluck group. Someone brings lunch or dinner for that day for the group and then you only have to worry about it once every few days. If you can afford it, consider buying out your favorite foods as an extra pick me up and to streamline your day.
Bottom line: Eat. You’ll feel better and work better.
5. Purpose & Reflection
Take some time to remind yourself of why you came to graduate school and what you hope to get out of it. What is it that makes your work here meaningful? And if you can answer that, maybe the mountain of work you have may not feel so terrible. (Which is why I keep telling myself “I love Harry Potter“).
Ask for help. Form a writing group. Ask for deadline extensions. Graduate school often pressures us to perform on the academy’s schedule and to their tune. But, this is your education. If there’s one thing I learned from talking to Leonard Cassuto, you need to own your education and make it work for you. After all, as Social Justice Warriors, shouldn’t we shake the academy up a bit?
* Note: I am by no means an expert. I merely offer up my own experience to help you think through how to implement strategies to take care of yourself in this challenging time! If you feel overly burdened, talk to your adviser, your friends, or seek a professional to assist you.