GRAD 5104

Grad 5104 – Coping with Stress

I had been considering writing another post related to my previous post “status by exhaustion”, when one of my advisers sent out a link to this article filled with advise for grad students. It is great and you should check it out (really, in lieu of this post even, I don’t mind). The author covers a range of sub-topics from data storage to self-care, the latter of which I’d like to expand on with some of my experiences and opinions.

Now, taking care of yourself is, interestingly, one of the more difficult things for people who learn to do as they disentangle from their family and take on more responsibility for themselves. This is evident in phenomena like burn-out or in the stereotypical body type of a pre-tenure faculty member (not everyone, but it is common). It is extremely easy to overlook your own health (mental and physical) when committing to other goals, like academic success.  I have lived under a variety of stresses at this point, and had the benefit of others with similar experience walking through a plan of self-care with me. The following are three aspects of a self-care plan it is good to consider, and a few examples of how I approach care. The first two are things you can do, and the last is composed of people & things that can help you. In really tough times, these practices may become coping mechanisms, so I’ll note here that there are good and bad coping mechanisms. What is good in some circumstances can be bad in others & vice versa. Bad coping mechanisms that come to mind: drugs & alcohol, manipulation of people in your support network, giving up, self-harm, refusing to listen to your body & emotions, or pretty much any ‘good’ mechanism in excess.

Physical Health (a lot of overlap here with mental health)

  • Sleep – the article linked above mentions getting enough sleep, and I discussed this in a previous post
  • Exercise
    • Go on a walk in the middle of a long day or every morning (with a dog?)
    • Stretch your upper body when spending a long time at the computer
    • Make a regular plan to walk, hike, run, do yoga, lift, bike, do pilates, go to a zumba class, swim, etc. You can choose whatever you like and whatever the place you live allows. Making it a weekly thing helps me to keep doing it.
    • Acquire a partner to hold you to your schedule
  • Food
    • Cook for yourself – pick at least one evening you have time to make your own food
    • Eat your leftovers for lunch
    • Be selective about the free food offerings – pizza isn’t that great and free doesn’t make it much better (easy for me to say, though, I can’t eat most of it)
    • Shop at the outside of the store and go into the aisles with a plan
    • Treat yourself to delicious ice cream sometimes
    • Eat enough food – don’t limit excessively out of guilt from living a more sedentary life
    • Eat different kinds of food – spaghetti is awesome and quick & popcorn is delicious, but one cannot live on these things alone
  • Be mindful of the drinking culture in your program – it varies but don’t be pressured to match the culture if it is not safe or healthy

Mental Health

  • Allow yourself to socialize
    • Make different groups of friends – it’s fun to have lab friends, but only ever talking lab stuff is probably not enough
    • Have potluck or rotating dinners
    • Schedule game nights
    • Go out to do things on weekends (hiking for where I live, but maybe it’s biking or something else available to you)
    • Form a Dungeons & Dragons campaign (or some inferior group activity)
    • Watch sports? (or do something better, like playing D&D)
  • Make time for yourself
    • This could also be an activity like yoga, running, tai chi, etc
    • Cooking or baking
    • Reading outside of your dicipline
    • Reading fiction
    • Coloring / real-artist art (I am just a color-er)
    • Do puzzles (but be prepared to have one on your table for months since these activities don’t get to be your main thing)
    • Baths seem to be a trend if you live somewhere with lots of water available
    • Take naps if you’re into that
    • Enjoy a show or movie
    • Play with your pets or other people’s pets
    • Light a bunch of candles and just relax
    • Do a chore you’ve been putting off (I’ve been in many apartments of students at all stages of school, so I can say with authority that this means clean your bathroom)
  • Take care of your finances – if you plan ahead you’ll be surprised & anxious less often
  • Seek whatever additional services you need if you’re not neurotypical &/or if you have special experiences that need to be addressed (the attached article goes into this more)
  • Pay attention to yourself so you can tell when you need these things

External Support-Structures (choose at least two, pets & professionals only count for .25 each, otherwise you’re being unfair to someone)

  • Aforementioned exercise partner
  • Life partner, boy/girlfriend, spouse
  • Family (parent, grandparent, aunt uncle)
  • family (sibling, cousin, niece/nephew, kids)
  • Pets (yours or other peoples)
  • Mentors
  • Colleagues
  • Friends
  • Professionals
  • Neighbors if you know them

As I think about self care, it is good to list out what/who you like/have so you have some things in mind when you need them.

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