Maintaining Sanity in the Midst of Chaos

I think we’ve all reached that point at least once in our academic careers where life feels like little more than a giant ball of stress (okay, pretty much every day feels like that, but still). Especially in graduate school, maintaining a balance between our roles as students and instructors (not to mention our other responsibilities and relationships outside of the university) can be really, really difficult. When these high-stress collisions occur, it is easy to resort to crying, screaming, and/or low-key alcoholism. Instead, when you feel like you’re being pulled in a million directions, try some of these strategies:

  • Keep a journal. Writing about what is going on in your life is an easy way to both validate your feelings and to detach yourself from them. Once your frustrations are in writing, it is like venting them to a trusted friend. Even if you don’t want to write about yourself in that capacity, keeping a journal can give you a few minutes a day to relax and unwind. If you are not an extensive journal writer, I would recommend Potter Style’s Q&A A Day journal. This gives you a question a day that can be answered in a sentence or two. Even better, it repeats for five years, so that you can easily look back on where you’ve been and consider where you’re going.
  • Establish bonds with your peers. Embrace the fact that your coworkers don’t have to just be those people you share an office with a few hours a day; they can be your friends too. In fact, fellow graduate students/TAs can be the best of companions because they know exactly what you’re going through. You can vent about crappy assignments, share in your teaching woes, and give each other pep-talks to get through the rest of the semester. Whether its talking over half-price margaritas at the local Mexican joint, sharing funny videos and memes on a Facebook group message, or wasting time in each other’s offices, establishing bonds with your peers can be a great thing.
  • Make time for fun. Despite the fact that graduate school seems like one big to-do list, it is important to make time for fun in your busy schedule. When you are writing, reading, thinking, and stressing hour after hour, day upon day, you really start to wear down both mentally and physically. Keep yourself going strong by doing something you enjoy once in awhile. Give your mind a break. Hit the bar with your friends (or coworkers!). Go on a date night with your significant other. See a movie at the theater or buy  tickets to a concert. Heck, just curl up on the couch and read a few chapters of that novel you’ve been putting off. Use fun time as a reward for a job well done and reinvigorate yourself for the working coming ahead.
  • “Treat yo’ self.” On a related note, you should totally “treat yo’ self” once in awhile too. (And yes, you must say that in Aziz Ansari’s voice while you’re doing it. That’s just how it works). Grad school is hard work, and sometimes the only person who really knows how hard it is, is you. So treat yo’ self, dammit. Indulge in that milkshake in-between a long day of classes. Enjoy that overpriced latte at your favorite coffee shop to knock out those lesson plans. Splurge on that weekend trip when you finish that thesis draft. You deserve it.
  • Remind yourself of your goals. This is, truly, the key to success (or survival, depending on your mood that day). When a total stress-storm of crap is raining down on your head and you don’t have an umbrella (probably because you left it in the top drawer of your desk), remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Remember what you’re working towards. Why this is important to you. Think of where you want to end up and what you need to get done to get there. Break the giant to-do list into smaller, more manageable steps. While it might not seem like you can do it all, you can. You will get everything finished and you will reach those end goals…you just need to remind yourself of that once in awhile.

So there you have it. As we move from March into April and finals encroach upon us, consider using these simple steps as your graduate school survival guide. And maybe, just maybe, you can successfully maintain your sanity in the weeks ahead. (Spoiler alert: you can, and you will).