If you’re feeling stressed in grad school, chances are you’re not alone. In fact, based on a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 64.5% of graduate and professional students experienced above-average or tremendous stress in the past year. While most college students experience some level of stress, graduate students face a unique set of pressures. Here are tools to help you effectively manage and reduce stress in grad school:
Take control of your schedule
It’s okay to say no to things, especially if they don’t fit into your personal or academic goals. This includes tasks and activities that you may feel pressured to do, like attending department outings or answering emails late into the night.
Taking control of your schedule may also mean setting boundaries to protect yourself against unwarranted stress. For instance, you may decide to only take one extremely difficult class per semester – you know, the ones with weekly exams, intensive and long reading or meticulous graders. Knowing your own limits can help you better plan your schedule and avoid taking on too much all at once.
Manage your time
Grad school can bring vague assignments, few deadlines or goals that feel long-term at best. Fighting the urge to put things off until the last minute can be difficult, but it’s possible. Set yourself up for success by breaking up projects into bite-sized pieces. Write out your milestones and list concrete tasks to ensure you make progress. You can also avoid last-minute panic by setting your own deadlines throughout.
Create a personal network
Peers are a great resource for moral support and empathy. They can also provide practical advice for dealing with the challenges of your chosen grad program. Reach out to people in your cohort, or those who are further along, to help steer you in the right direction. You can also join one of the graduate student organizations on campus to find connections.
While colleagues are a great place make connections, it can also be helpful to look outside your program. Consider joining community groups through Meetup, church organizations or other local functions to help you feel a greater sense of community in Boulder and at CU.
Family and friends are another great outlet for stress reduction and emotional support. In many cases, family members and friends outside of you graduate department can serve as a lifeline or a welcomed retreat from your office or lab.
Make yourself a priority
Self-care isn’t always about watching a movie or taking a bubble bath. In fact, self-care can be hard work. However, it’s important to make your own mental and physical health a priority. Start with your most basic needs first: Ensuring that you’re staying hydrated, eating meals regularly, getting enough sleep (7-9 hours per night) and being physically active can help you set a good foundation for engaging in self-care.
Once your most basic needs are met, you can look to other sources of self-care, like budgeting, practicing mindfulness techniques or setting up “dates” with friends.
Ask for help, even if you think you don’t need it
Grad school can often leave us feeling pressured out of asking for help. The truth is, everyone needs help at some point (and it’s okay to ask for it). Whether you go to a professor to help level set expectations or confide in a peer about the pressures of an assignment, asking for help and support can help reduce stress and anxiety. If you feel overwhelmed, you can always visit CAPS for help.
All students can get started at CAPS through their walk-in hours. You can also attend Let’s Talk, a confidential and free consultation with a counselor at various campus locations. If you are already seeing a provider, consider taking advantage of their telehealth program, which allows students to meet with their provider through a secure video chat, to make accessing care more convenient. Ask about telehealth during your walk-in appointment or reach out to your current provider to learn more.