How to Manage Stress in Grad School
It’s that time of year again — the work is piling up, scholarship applications are due, and there are all sorts of deadlines just around the corner. As I write this, there’s a precarious tower of books on my desk that threatens to crush my spirit, and possibly a couple of bones too, should I happen to knock it over. I should be writing my thesis, but I don’t even know where to start. I have to make up a couple of conference abstracts. And I feel a little bit sick just thinking of all the marking that somehow needs to get done this weekend.
It’s all a bit stressful tbh.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life in grad school, but it’s not exactly something that is ever discussed in departments’ common rooms and study groups. All we ever seem to talk about is how many hours a day we work, and how hard we focus on every single task. But everyone in grad school feels overwhelmed by their research project and the amount of work on their plate at some point.
Even if you’re just starting your undergraduate degree, these tips will be helpful to you. Stress management is a skill that can be learned, though it’s still a work in progress for me. There are little things you can do to help reduce your stress levels when things get tough.
And if it’s not really working…well, the goal of grad school, as far as I can tell, is to survive each day, barely. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.
1. Go to sleep
If it’s 4 am and you’ve been staring at a blank page or reading the same paragraph for hours, it’s time to call it a night. You probably could push through it and pull an all-nighter, but you’ll work better in the morning. You might have to turn in your work a little late or work extra hard for the next few days, but it will be worth it. Just make sure your deadlines are flexible – but I’ve learned over the years that most deadlines are fake.
2. Make a to-do list…the right way
I love lists more than most, but I’ve learned that not all lists are effective. The key is to be specific and break down your list into small, manageable chunks. That means no more vague “read” or “write” bullet points. List your readings by chapters. Write down how many words you want to write each day and what you want to write about specifically. That way, you can actually see the progress you’re making and you’ll be motivated. Maybe.
3. Take a day off for life admin
The constant fear of failure keeps most of us working day and night for months on end, but “real life” goes on. Take a day off to put some order in your life. Make medical appointments, buy shampoo, go get that important document you need, answer your emails…Take care of all the little things that you’ve been putting off for too long. You’ll feel more organized and you’ll work better once it’s done.
4. Feel sorry for yourself
Most people would disagree, but I think it’s absolutely essential. When it feels like you’re entire life is falling apart, hide your books under your desk, roll yourself up in a blanket like a sad burrito and binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. When you’ve cried all the tears, you’ll emerge ready to work.
5. Talk about it
Everyone struggles. Open up to your friends, and I bet they will tell you they’re going through or have gone through a really stressful time too. I honestly don’t think anyone feels in control of their life and research, but it’s easy to forget that because everyone puts a lot of effort into looking like to have their shit together. Having friends who are also in grad school helps because they will understand exactly what you’re going through.
Do you have any other tips to help manage stress? Leave them in the comments below!