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Four Ways to Relieve Stress in Graduate School

Four Ways to Relieve Stress in Graduate School

  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesAug 28, 2017

Are you experiencing stress as a graduate student? If so, you’re far from alone. In fact, a staggering 43 percent of doctoral students report feeling “more stress than they can handle” while in graduate school, according to research from graduate student support organization Grad Resources. Even more alarmingly? Graduate students are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. The takeaway is clear: Dealing with anxiety and stress during graduate school is an imperative.

Read on for a roundup of ways to manage your stress toward a happier, healthier and more productive graduate school experience.

meditating man in the library with books on head

1. Adopt healthy habits

Trips to the vending machine, endless cups of coffee, hours on end at library desks, and sleepless nights. While this may sound like standard operating procedures for graduate students, they’re a recipe for poor physical and mental health -- which can trigger stress and anxiety. Conversely, committing yourself to eating right, exercising and getting plenty of sleep is the formula for reduced stress and best academic outcomes.

One of the simplest ways to beat stress and keep depression at bay? Grab a friend and take a walk outside. According to research from the University of Michigan, group nature walks are associated with everything from less perceived stress and significantly lower depression to improved mental well-being. Said senior author Sara Warber, MD, “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

While you may feel like you can’t afford taking time out for self-care measures, the reality is that you can’t afford not to. Designing and implementing a schedule can help you make sure you’ve got time for everything -- including yourself.

2. Keep your long-term goals in mind.

Being a grad student can feel a lot like being a hamster on a wheel: Lots of going around in circles but getting nowhere. But even though it may feel this way sometimes, it’s not the case. You wouldn’t be in graduate school if you didn’t have goals. Reminding yourself of the reasons why you’re in graduate school in the first place can help you stay focused, motivated and on track.

Even better than just going over them in your head? Write them down and review them regularly. Viewed through the lens of your objectives, the work you have to put in during graduate school becomes less of an obstacle and more of an opportunity to help you reach your destination.

Tired student having a lot to read. Worried student

3. Celebrate your successes.

Things go wrong during graduate school. But they also go right. Unfortunately, many people end up focusing on the former as opposed to the latter. This can enhance stress, anxiety and depression. On the other hand, cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” and focusing on the good things in life -- both big and small -- can help you in numerous ways.

Forbes recently highlighted “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude,” including opening the door to more relationships; boosting physical and mental strength; reducing aggression and improving empathy; enhancing self-esteem and even sleeping better. So go ahead and count your blessings. In doing so, you’ll accumulate even more blessings to count!

4. Ask for help.

In many cases, stress is surmountable through the strategies above. In other cases, you may need help in order to overcome feelings of stress and anxiety. This can mean reaching out for informal help (joining a study group or talking to a close friend, family member or professor) or seeking out formal help (scheduling a visit with your school’s office of student support or a mental health professional).

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can and should be able to handle all of our problems on our own. However, the reality is that human beings need each other to survive and to thrive. Accepting this during graduate school will not only make your life less stressful, but also infinitely richer.

Graduate school isn’t supposed to be easy. But it’s not supposed to be a living hell, either. These four tips can help you get a handle on your stress so you can minimize stress and maximize satisfaction during graduate school.

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.