The Importance of Self-Care for Graduate Students
This is the time of year that many students are hyper-focused; graduate students want to make it through coursework, comprehensive exams, or dissertations in time to take some much-needed rest during the holidays (or, in some cases, take advantage of the deserted halls and make progress alone and undisturbed). Yet the holidays can be the most dangerous time of the year, especially for students, as it is fraught with depression, anxiety, and a general lack of self-care.
Once considered something to be glossed over or brushed under the rug, mental health and overall well-being of graduate students is now coming into the light. Administrators and faculty members are beginning to take an active role in the well-being of students, and campus health groups are bringing attention to the importance of school-life balance.
When I entered my doctoral program, I had two very important assets at my disposal: 1) I had a significant other who was not an academic, and 2) I was completing my studies in my hometown, where I had many friends outside of school. Most graduate students do not have either of those luxuries, let alone both. But even I found myself in a state of mild depression and anxiety by my second year.
It was through a number of circumstances outside of my control that I began to consider the necessity of work-life balance. I realized that when I die, no one is going to care about the number of publications I had or the grades I got in my classes. They weren’t going to talk about the kind of academic I was, they were going to talk about the kind of person that I was – How did I treat others? What were my hobbies? What values were important to me, and how did I live those out in my life?
I started reconsidering my choices. I spent time with my family and friends, making them a priority. I changed my eating habits and made a conscious effort to exercise. I made time for my hobbies – traveling and cooking. I read books that had nothing to do with school. When I was at school, I took walks and ate lunch away from my desk.
These choices required sacrifices on my part, and not everyone would choose to do the same things I did. But my one piece of advice to incoming graduate students is always the same: Self-care is important. Your health and well-being is more important than a grade or a publication.
So while you’re focused on courses, comprehensive exams, or your dissertation, take a break to try something new. Take a walk, read a book you’ve been wanting to read, try a new exercise routine. You will feel better, and your studies will likely improve because of it.