Tips for Staying Healthy in Graduate School
Jocelyn E. Remmert, MS; Doctoral Student, Drexel University
Tiffany Bullard; Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Welcome to graduate school in the health field. It’s normal to feel stress, anxiety, and depression. Other unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol or forgoing exercise can become the norm. We know it is hard staying healthy in school. Mental and behavioral health issues can often arise when you are working as hard as you do. Exercise, healthy eating habits, and self-care tend to drop off, because, who has the time when you have to perform in school and care for others? If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We have put together the following tips for improving mental and physical health in graduate school.
Tip #1: Follow the healthy behavior advice you give to others
We all know how important it is to engage in healthy behaviors as students who study said health behaviors. We also all understand the barriers to being as healthy as we can be. Graduate students have some circumstances that can be particularly hard to navigate when trying to implement health behaviors.
- Set a budget for groceries and shop the sales for healthy foods. Take the time to meal prep for the week so you can have a healthy meal ready when you’re thinking about ordering from GrubHub.
- Set a consistent sleep schedule for yourself and stick to it, even if it means signing off your email a little earlier--getting 7-8 hours of regular sleep will make you an infinitely better student when you are awake.
- Schedule physical activity into your schedule (even a 10 minute brisk walk counts!) and treat it like a meeting with your mentor. That means you don’t reschedule or miss it for anything!
- Find healthy, fun ways to manage your stress (e.g., mindfulness or meditation, exercise, painting, journaling, chatting with a friend).
- Work on finding a what a good work/life balance means for you.
- Be assertive with your self-care. Only you know what your work/life balance looks like and how to best manage your stress. Try your best to advocate for yourself to get the balance you need. If you can take care of yourself, you will be a better student when you are on the clock.
If you’re having difficulty following your own health behavior advice, ask yourself what’s getting in the way and then try to find the appropriate solution, just like you would do in your work.
Tip #2: Cultivate a meaningful and supportive network.
You can’t make it through on your own, and no one expects you to. Many of us are in long distance relationships with significant others, friends, and family, and these relationships require up keep. My husband and I live in different cities, so we stop and drop what we’re doing at 9pm and get on FaceTime, even if we keep working together. We also carve out time to spend on FaceTime without work, just like we’d do in person (like watching a show together on www.rabb.it).
This works in small ways too. Find the little times with walks or drives between places in your everyday life and call someone. If you need more in person connection, try a new activity (check out www.meet-up.com). Go to a new exercise class or go to the same class and talk to someone. Plan activities with your cohort members (we suggest weekly or biweekly potlucks). We know this takes a lot of work and time, but we bet connecting with people will make you happier, which will make you a better student!
Tip #3: Remember that graduate school is temporary.
We know it doesn’t seem like it, but the nature of graduate school is that it has a set time frame, typically 2 years for Masters programs and 5-7 for PhD programs. Graduate school is important and formative in many ways, but it doesn’t decide everything for the rest of your life. Try to get some perspective. Talk with older students. Ask people further along in their career how they got to where they are—you’ll be surprised at how many paths there are! Take time away (vacation, “sick day,” or even an afternoon) to get your own perspective, it will be well worth your time.
Tip #4: Get professional help when you need it.
If you’re really struggling with something, stop and ask yourself what you would tell a friend in this exact same situation. Would you be mad at them for feeling this way or think getting help was a sign of failure? We bet you’d be empathetic and tell them it’s okay to struggle and to get help. You may even suggest some evidence-based practices. It is important to do the same for yourself. Check out your University’s counseling center. If that’s not an option for you, there are online options like www.talkspace.com to help. It’s not uncommon, and you won’t be the first or the last.
Graduate school is tough, but by using these tips for grad student health, you will begin to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically.
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