How to care for your mental wellness in graduate school
This essay written by Tracy Walker, a Ph.D. student in learning design and technology, is part of a series featuring graduate ambassadors' approaches to maintaining their mental wellness and prioritizing their self-care.
Practicing self-care—anything you do to nurture your mind, body, and spirit—can make balancing the demands of graduate school and life easier. Here are some simple ways I practice self-care.
Sleep can improve focus, memory, energy, and creativity and boost heart health and the immune system (Benefits of Sleep, 2019). I need all those benefits, y’all! When I started my Ph.D. program, I made some small changes (e.g., making sure I am in bed by midnight, not turning on the television, and keeping my study and sleeping spaces separate) that helped me go from getting 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night to at least 7.
Because “[d]eath and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), I maintain my optimistic outlook with positive affirmations and meditation. A positive attitude improves overall health, reduces anxiety, and fosters resilience (Arewasikporn, Sturgeon, & Zautra, 2019), while helping me manage the challenges and change associated with graduate student life. No matter how many times I revise the first two chapters of my dissertation, I trust I will complete them when I should.
I am thankful for God’s grace, mercy, and favor; family members who love and support me; and friends who encourage and accept me. I give back, write about people and things I am grateful for, and often express my appreciation in the form of texts, cards, or small gifts. Expressing gratitude improves sleep, energy, health, and relationships (Daley, 2018), allows me to celebrate my progress, and reminds me I have everything necessary to finish my program.
When I am spending time with family and friends, taking a class, or reading a book, I fully engage in the experience. Stannah (2019) indicates mindfulness offers many of the same benefits as being positive and grateful. It also helps me focus on what I am learning, appreciate this time in my life, and make memories I will cherish.
Self-care is not selfish. It is important to make sure I am at my best mentally, physically, and emotionally to manage life’s demands and challenges. I had to find things that I enjoy doing—and do them.
I try to do one thing daily to care for myself, but when life gets hectic, practicing self-care is often the last thing on my mind. I learned when I schedule a dedicated time to work out, study, or meditate, it helps me establish a routine, develop a habit of self-care and prioritize my needs.
A support system is critical to success, so it is important to build community with others. Family and friends cheer me on. My advisor—shout-out to Dr. Monica Tracey—pushes (code for “requires”) me to leave my comfort zone, provides guidance and feedback to help me grow, and urges me to trust and use my voice. Other faculty members offer insights and ideas. My fellow graduate ambassadors, sisters in The Scholar Circle, and colleagues with doctorates commiserate with me, share resources and recommendations, and act as accountability partners. They all remind me I can do this.
As graduate students, it is particularly important for us to rest, reflect, and recharge. Taking time for ourselves and making self-care a habit not only benefits our physical, mental, and emotional health but also will help make this graduate school journey more manageable. We got this!
Arewasikporn, A., Sturgeon, J. A., & Zautra, A. J. (2019). Sharing positive experiences boosts resilient thinking: Everyday benefits of social connection and positive emotion in a community sample. American Journal of Community Psychology, 63(1/2), 110-121. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/10.1002/ajcp.12279
Benefits of sleep: The impact of sleep on the body. (2019). Positive Health, 254, 5.
Daley, D. C. (2018). The benefits of gratitude. Counselor: The Magazine for Addiction Professionals, 19(5), 16-18.
Stannah. (2019). 10 health benefits of mindfulness. Positive Health, 258, N.PAG.