For those of you who don’t know, I’ve done a lot of school. A whole freaking lot. So much so that my family jokes that I’m a professional student. My collegiate experience can be summed up as follows: I went to undergrad for 5 years completing a major and double minors finishing with honors. I then went directly into my research based masters degree for the next three years, also teaching and working a second full time job. I was uber busy but still managed to graduate with honors. I then took one year off to work as a scientist, and now I’m back in graduate school again for 2 more years. For those keeping track, that is 10 years of higher education. TEN YEARS!
They say write about what you know. If a anything, the one thing I know about is school. That being said, something I did not know when starting school was how to take care of myself. Or how to balance school with everything else. Being an achiever type, I often took on too much extra. So through many years of trial and error, multiple break downs, and unnecessary stress I’ve learned a few things that help me balance school. So here are my tips for keeping sane.
1-Get A Planner. It can be digital, on paper, or on a white board even. Just find whatever works best for you. I personally have a paper one with monthly and weekly sections. Not only does it free your mind of stress trying to remember all the do dates and coordinating everything, but checking things off the to do list is highly satisfying. I love looking back at how productive I am. I also record my workouts in my planner. That way everything is in one place.
2A-Get Some Exercise. Yes my cerebral friends, it is important to get exercise. If you’re anything like me, you have a love hate relationship with working out. I’d much rather curl up with a good book or Netflix, drink some wine, and eat all the unhealthy things with it. But research and individual resorts suggests that not only is exercise good for your physically and mental health, but its supports your academic goals too. Research has shown that regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training improve memory, thinking skills, and even increases the volume of your brain. You can find one of the thousands of articles here.
2B- Eat A Balanced Diet. As hard as it is to refuse the free pizza, do it. Your body needs the right fuel to function properly. It is worth taking the time to prioritize and do things like meal prep. Apps like myfitnesspal can help you track things like macros, calories, and activity. If anything it can help you just be a bit more mindful about your food choices. I’m not saying don’t go enjoy a beer with the cohort, I’m saying take care of yourself. Prioritize your health. All aspects of it.
3-Find Something To Love COMPLETELY Separate From Your Program. Its very easy to get wrapped up in a graduate program. Its important to remember that there is more to you than research/lab work/ this one interesting topic. Remember to do things that are fun for you. For me it was running and playing/making music. It helped keep me sane when experiments weren’t working, or I couldn’t find that one specific article I read once upon a time to cite. Doing this keeps you balanced, reminds you that this stressful time is not forever, and that your life is more than this singular program.
4-Get (Lots) Sleep. I had to learn this one the hard way. Being ultra busy and always taking on new projects I found myself sacrificing sleep to attain my long list of achievements. It wasn’t until my mentor during my 3rd year of grad school suggested that I reevaluate my priorities (that is the nice way of saying-you look like crap and your second full time job is killing you) that I realized I had a problem. I was living on max 4 hours a night for two years and it took a toll on my mental and physical health. Even though I dropped a second job, I still ended up dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome for about 4 months AFTER graduation. Since entering graduate school a second time, I have chosen to maintain no less than 5.5 hours of sleep, but my average is closer to 7. Even if it means I get a A- instead of an A.
This connects to my next tip well…
5- Say No. Yes, the overachieving people-pleaser just told you to say no to people. I will be the first to admit that this is easier said than done. However, I have learned that it is better to say yes to 1 thing and give it 100% than say yes to 4 things and not be present. When in graduate school your time is limited and sometimes saying no is important for taking care of yourself. You’re not being selfish, its just the way life is right now. Explaining why you can’t always hang out with family and friends helps. Also, intentionally planning hangouts when it IS convenient helps them understand too. What helps with this and maintaining a balance is having a planner. See tip # 1.
*Bonus Tip* Therapy. If you are having a hard time coping or balancing your life during school, go get help. There is 0 shame in doing so. ZERO. Also, most schools offer this to students for free, so take advantage of this resource. It can be the difference between a really negative experience in school vs. having an amazing time and making positive memories.
So thats it for now. Good luck! You got this!