Self-Care: Who Has Time for That?

In this guest post, Gabrielle Pointon, M.S., Psychology Intern at the University Counseling Center, addresses the importance of self-care for graduate students. 

Self-Care. It’s an infamous word that you all have probably heard, but often ignore because of how impossible it seems. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. There are more important things to do. I urge you to really think about this concept of self-care. As you are reading this, how are you feeling? Run down? Burnt out? Sleep deprived? Graduate school is a prime period in your life to feel this way because you have so much to accomplish in such a small amount of time. You probably even feel guilty when you take time for yourself because you could be doing something “more productive.”

This outlook has led to an epidemic, a crisis if you so choose, in the mental health of graduate students. You all have a lot of pressure on your shoulders, and this pressure leads to isolation and feelings of inadequacy. To make it even more difficult, you are in the minority in terms of educational achievement, so most of the people outside of your academic circle cannot even comprehend the stress you are under or the work you are trying to complete. If you are still in graduate school, you’re winning, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel like you’re drowning at the same time. This is why graduate students have been found to be SIX TIMES more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the general population.

So, why is self-care important? Part of the reason is because students with a good work-life balance have significantly better mental health outcomes. This means making sure you take care of your basic needs, such as getting adequate nutrition and sleep, is important, but it’s more than just that. It’s taking a break and recharging too. It is essential that you are trying to disconnect from school by having a set time each day to find a little piece of comfort and joy. Self-care looks different for each person, so this could consist of social time, meditation, exercising, engaging in a hobby, etc. If you feel guilty about even the idea of taking breaks, remember that research demonstrates breaks lead to more productivity in the long run.

The take away here is this: make self-care just as much a priority as your work. Some days you’ll have hours and some days you’ll merely have minutes, but your mental health is dependent on these types of choices. Let’s make your graduate career a positive one to look back upon!

How can we, as a community of graduate students, prioritize self-care in our daily lives? What are your favorite strategies for practicing self-care? Leave a comment below!