Grad School · mental health · Personal

What Self-Care CAN Actually Look Like In Grad School

I never heard the term ‘Self-Care’ as much as I did when I was in grad school. Especially being in a Counseling Psychology program, every professor spewed these words into lectures, emphasized this in every side conversation and practically left subliminal messages EVERYWHERE.

But with good reason.

My first year in grad school, I wasn’t quite on board with the concept. I was so busy trying to have a work-life balance, work full-time, attend classes full-time, keep up with the expectations of family and friends and still have some type of social life in a new city. The message of self-care and making time for myself wasn’t necessarily a top priority, because I felt that there was no part of my lifestyle that I could sacrifice without suffering.

It wasn’t until I woke up with bald spots in my hair that I realized I might have just been doing TOO much.

After re-evaluating my lifestyle and forcing myself to make changes for my own health and well-being, I had embraced the idea of self-care wholeheartedly. Doing so allowed me to have a clear mind and take in so much more of my experience in grad school, academically and professionally. I also was able to not be so stressed out all the time and improve my overall relationships with others. I was protecting my energy. 

So here are some of the not so typical things I did that worked for me. Small things that made a huge difference in my quality of living.

Force yourself to take a break 

One of my biggest issues was that, if I wasn’t doing one thing I was doing something else. I never really gave myself time to breathe in between responsibilities. I’d leave work and go straight to school. Come home and go straight to reading and writing papers for hours. On weekends, I’d be catching up on housework, homework, and calling loved ones. I literally had to schedule breaks. My schedule became something like
-8a-12p Read Chapters;
-12p-130p Watch Netflix;
-130p-3p Finish Reading Chapters;
-3p-5p Clean House 5p-930p.
I also made it a promise to myself that on certain days, I did not do anything academic after 8pm. Every Tuesday and Thursday was Me Time after 8pm. To allow myself that time and space to regroup, connect with my support system, take care of chores and errands, etc. ME TIME.

Distance yourself from relationships that don’t add to your life

When these people are your closest friends or your family members, it’s not so easy to just not answer their calls or not call them back. I found myself being extremely stressed about trying to maintain these relationships. Until one day I realized, this person is not stressing to understand how i’m feeling or the stress i’m under nor is this person helping to alleviate the stress. I had to be okay with distancing myself from some. Not cutting them off, but acknowledging that you don’t have to talk to someone everyday to have a strong relationship with them. When you’re focused on goals, sometimes the relationships take a back seat momentarily and that’s OKAY. And if they don’t understand that and are not okay with them, the relationship is probably more toxic than you realized.

Make time for the relationships that add to your life

My friends and I were on opposite coasts in grad school, doing what we do – but we made time for each other and made it a priority to talk and travel together. These relationships grew stronger, in fact, while in grad school. Because the expectations were that of a supportive relationship. We don’t have to talk everyday, but when we do talk it’s like we pick up where we left off. No guilt tripping one another if weeks or months go by since you’ve seen each other, no questions about grad school and future plans. Just genuine interactions with the people who want to see you be the best you and understand what that may entail. I found myself wanting to be surrounded by the people who didn’t question me when I came around, but motivated me. Even if they didn’t hear from me in a while, they’d make time to acknowledge how hard i’ve been working, or how proud they are of me or how much they believe in me. THATS who you should have in your tribe and who you should make time for.

Recalibrate your schedule 

Probably the hardest thing to do, but was so necessary for me. Although challenging and taking quite some time to get used to, I was able to make things work. I quit my full time job and worked multiple part-time jobs. And yes, that sounds like a lot, but let me explain my logic.

My FT job required me to be there everyday for 8 hours with no flexibility in the hours. When I needed to leave early for school related assignments, I got a lot of push back. I had to use PTO for school things.

When I started working part time, I had one position that guaranteed I’d have weekend hours, but I’d have the opportunity to pick up hours throughout the week as well. I also had an overnight position where I worked 2-3 nights a week. Which now meant, I have the daytime during the week to focus on academics, internship, attend classes, etc. and I’m still able to provide for myself. Although I did have to depend on a refund check or loans a little bit more than I did when I was working full time, it was worth it being able to have peace of mind and not literally be running from one place to the next 5 days a week.

Plus, working part time, I usually had the ability to pick up shifts at both jobs. So, if I knew a break was coming, or new I was going to need some extra money to pay bills, I could pick up extra shifts at those times. Winter break I was working full time hours, then went back down to part time once the semester started back up.  Being able to have part time jobs allowed me the flexibility to make things work in a way that worked for me. 

Embrace the Grad Student Struggle

Because I was on a real tiny budget, I often found myself finding any and everything free that I could get my hands on. I also found any and every opportunity to make some extra coins (see how, here). I would see all the flyers around campus about events with free food, I’d see groupons and flyers about free or cheap yoga classes, and I took every offer to have me over for dinner by my classmates. Doing these things not only allowed me to keep a few extra dollars in my pocket, but also made a heck of a difference in my overall mental state. Being able to step away from my routine for a second and just embrace what life had to offer me ( and for the low!), was refreshing and sometimes necessary! Don’t feel ashamed or feel like you’re going to look broke because you attend every free food event on campus. They know the struggle! That’s why they have these things!

What are some not so conventional ways that you practice self-care?

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