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Work-Life Balance in Graduate School

How to thrive under pressure.

Graduate student practicing yoga in library to de-stress.
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According to a survey by the American College Health Association, 67 percent of graduate students labeled their stress level as “above average” during their time at university. Another study showed that these students are over six times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety compared to the general population.

A healthy work-life balance is possible, however. Schools recognize the hurdles facing graduate students and offer a variety of services to help relieve burdens. There are also a number of apps—as well as scheduling strategies—to benefit the overwhelmed grad student population.

Read on for tips to live your best life—and be your healthiest, sanest self—in graduate school.

Scheduling: The Key to Grad School Sanity

Graduate students perform a constant juggling act between classes, lab time, reading assignments, group projects, term papers and family life outside of university life. Students in graduate school often have spouses and children, parents or grandparents with whom they have active relationships, or full- or part-time jobs. Keeping it all straight can be a challenge.

With a comprehensive calendar, you can record every meeting with a professor, every shift at work, every study group. Try chunking all of your reading assignments, as opposed to one daunting “Book finished by October 25.” Carry this daily planner with you, or select from a variety of apps to help you get organized. For example, there’s iStudiezPro, which lays out the schedule for the week or month ahead and even sends a notification when an assignment is due; or Outliner, which allows you to enter your thoughts about assignments when a great idea pops into mind, then organizes those brainstorm moments into an outline.

The key to managing your schedule is being diligent in entering every commitment, whether it be a group presentation or to celebrate Grandma’s birthday party. You will see where the gaps in the schedule exist and where you can fit in some fun, relaxation or a hobby.

If you’re still overwhelmed, colleges have plenty of ways of offering support—which you’ve most likely already paid for in your student fees—like graduate advisors or mentors, program directors, student support groups, graduate school cohorts or counseling centers on campus. If wondering about your future job is weighing on your mind, your university’s career strategy office can offer guidance.

Your Ongoing Assignment: Prioritize Yourself

Three meals a day, exercise, sleep: Those things need to take a back seat when you’re in grad school, right?

Or do they? There are many ways to work in healthy meals and exercise around your studies.

To give students access to healthy fruits and vegetables during a busy day, several universities nationwide have launched on-campus farmers markets. If you’re lucky enough to attend a university that partakes in these programs, be sure to take advantage; buy a fresh apple to snack on between classes.

…But don’t stop at just one apple: Buy enough fresh produce to last a week and add an hour to your schedule for meal prep. Cut up fruits and veggies and store them in zip-lock bags to grab a snack on the way out the door. Throw them into a smoothie or a salad. Cook a pound of chicken, cut it up and put it in the freezer. Take out a handful of the chicken to add protein to your salad. Try some overnight oats.

Exercise doesn’t have to cut into your busy schedule, either. Work on athletics and academics at the same time. Do you tape a professor’s lectures on your smartphone? Listen to the lectures as you take a morning run. Have some reading that needs to get done? Take your book to the gym and read while pedaling away on the exercise bike.

Even if you can’t get eight hours of sleep, make the sleep you get as productive as possible. Try to climb into bed at the same time every night after doing something relaxing. Yoga, meditation or reading a magazine can help you relax. Going through social media on your phone will only increase your stimulation. Instead, try apps like Relaxed Melodies, which will play relaxing sounds and melodies to relieve stress and help your slumber, Calm, which focuses on meditation as it relates to sleep or Pzizz, which generates sounds to help you fall asleep.

Don’t Forget Friends and Family

Your friends and family members have been there for you through every big life event. Why should grad school be any different?

As you prepare to enter your graduate program, sit down with your family or friends and let them know what your time commitments will be. At the same time, ask for their patience and support. Your free time will be reduced significantly, but maintaining relationships is possible.

If you’ve been playing pickup basketball once a week with the guys, keep doing it. They will most likely understand if you need to move that Wednesday night game to Saturday morning. Or find that hour to sit at the local coffeehouse and share what’s new with your friends. Enjoy this important time off from your studies and don’t worry about what you think you should be doing. This is important, too.

Those are the easy relationships. Tougher ones may be spouses and/or children, but luckily, many campuses have thought of that, and may have accommodations for you. Perhaps your campus offers day care, or workshops for students who are parents, who will help you organize holiday parties, arts programs or outings for you and your family.

Or, rely on a trusted babysitter for a few hours and enjoy adult time together at a happy hour thrown by the school. At these events, you’ll meet other families of graduate students who have the same hectic life you do, instantly giving you something in common.

Grad school can be one of the toughest—but hopefully rewarding—times in your life. It’s important to remember that your loved ones and your campus will support you. Use these resources to master your work-life balance and find success.

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