Managing Stress in Graduate School

Inevitably, stress becomes an intrinsic element in all of life's major decisions: the decision to attend grad school is no exception. It seems as though for an instant you excitedly anticipate your acceptance into the graduate program of your choice, you receive your acceptance letter, and then it happens: YOU'RE STRESSED!

In addition to the impending academic stress with which you will soon be confronted, also existing are the numerous other stress factors in your life: work, family, and time (your nemesis!). Although I cannot provide you with any mystery formula to totally purge you of your grad school stress, I can offer you the warning signs indicating that you are under stress and tips on how to deal with and alleviate it.

Know the signs

Do you experience any of the following?







muscle tension

Relax, these experiences are quite normal and they are commonly known as stress symptoms. In addition to common remedies for these ubiquitous ailments - yoga, aromatherapy, walking and exercise, and even warm bubble baths, the key remedy is a simple equation: prudent time management = success - stress!

What steps should you take to ensure an efficient and effective time management schedule (TMS)?

Step 1: develop a to-do list 
Step 2: prioritize and organize the items
Step 3: implement your plan

Developing your to-do list

This includes everything - family, bills, dentist, groceries, grad study, etc. The most efficient way to succeed in this area is to obtain the proper tools. Both a computer-based and a tangible filing system are crucial for your time management success. You may also want to invest in an ample supply of office essentials: a dependable stapler, pencil sharpener, a reliable printer along with loads of printer paper, paper clips, and post-it pads. Binders and folders are excellent for managing research/thesis materials, professional credentials, related articles, and personal articles (bills, etc). In addition, you may also want to designate a personal workspace - a well-lit area, free from distraction.

Prioritizing and organizing the items

Many students find organizing the coming week's schedule proves most efficient. You may want to list your activities from highest to lowest priority and assign time frames for each item on the list. Additionally, for projects that are not procrastination-friendly, it is wise to assign them daily time slots. Most importantly, remember there is life outside of grad school, be sure to include family responsibilities in your TMS. Naturally, as time goes by you may find yourself tweaking time frames and priority levels. As I'm sure you have already learned things will not always go as smoothly as planned. Should a wrench leap into your situation, dust yourself off and jump back in the saddle.

Implementing your plan

Ah, the true test, implementing your plan. The time has come to achieve your goals and to allow your TMS to work for you. You will need to reference your TMS daily and assign labels as necessary. For instance, if there are projects that you will need to work on at a later date, you may want to tag them accordingly. Remember, this is your TMS, there are no rules as to structure and content; you are the only one using it, so design it practically. Also, as new items come along, you will want to incorporate them into your TMS. One crucial factor, focus on one project at a time. We tend to think that if we concentrate on more than one task at a time, we can complete them simultaneously. Unfortunately, this doesn't work and instead we only end up with low-quality outcomes. Focus on projects one at a time and then take pleasure in crossing them off your list one by one.

In addition to the TMS, let's discuss items that you may want to reconsider during crucial TMS slots: accepting the phone call from the friend who calls and talks for two hours about absolutely nothing, or the favorite sitcom marathon. You may want to save them for your mental health breaks.

While we're on the topic of mental health, some additional tips I'd like to add: let go of your perfection obsession and work at a steady, comfortable pace; two years from now the red ink on your final paper will be insignificant in both your personal and professional life; and try not to spend numerous laborious hours sitting at the computer; take a walk, listen to your favorite music band, or even play a video game. Your brain will thank you for it. Lastly, at the risk of sounding cliché, take time to smell the roses. Spend quality time with family and friends; it's a great stress reliever!

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