Adelaide9216

Taking care of one's mental health

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Hello,

I read that graduate studies can be very solitary and difficult emotionally by nature. Also, its very competitive nature can be hard to manage. I know for myself that I am an over-achiever and that I can be prone to depression due to that. I just wanted to know, what are your tips to take care of your mental health and well-being throughout your studies?

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Relax.  Don't buy in to the culture of not only claiming a 70 hour work week, but masochistically wearing it as a badge of honor.  Settle into habits of work and mind that allow you to accomplish what you want to get done.  Measure your work by its quality, not the amount of time you can claim you spent on it.  Set realistic goals.  Take on manageable levels of department of service while learning when to say "no".    Stay connected to people around you.  Attend talks that have nothing to do with your dissertation.  Cultivate hobbies that have nothing to do with your dissertation.  Read books that have nothing to do with your dissertation.  Remember that a PhD is just one part of the life that you're living and that other things are also part of your life.  Don't let your PhD become your entire life.  Recognize that the system is designed in such a way as to make you feel perpetually behind and that the people who don't feel behind or under pressure are probably posturing.  Remember that you're not an impostor, you were accepted to your program because they believe in your potential.  Exercise.  Drink plenty of water.  Eat nutritious food.  Sleep when it's time.

Most of all, if your program offers you good health insurance or a counseling center - avail yourself of therapy when you need it - or perhaps before you need it.

 

Edited by jrockford27

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I had an unhappy and anxiety-filled MA, followed by about a year or two of depression. Now that I'm a few years away from that situation and diving back into a PhD, these are my plans for mental health: Friends both in and out of my field, and definitely non-grad school friends. Talk to at least one non-grad friend once a week. Take one full day a week off. Don't be ashamed to just read the intro and conclusion and then move on. Find a kind of exercise I enjoy and make time for it. Use a planner to chart my weeks to help me make sure I'm hitting the most important things. Find a show (live music, author reading, play, etc) to see once every two weeks. And Clonopin-- sweet, sweet Clonopin.  :*

Edited by rheya19
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It all depends on the environment of your program sometimes. Some programs are competitive and do not do collaborations, while others encourage it and want you to work together. Haha I had quite the grad experience that I will take with me into phd. I had a vice for every semester. One semester, I drank a lot. One semester, I was sleeping around (more than I usually do haha). One semester, I did both. And the last semester, I was a hermit and shut myself off socially.

Tips on taking care of your mental health: first, don't do what I did and have nearly destructive coping habits. Luckily, I didn't drink myself to the point of alcohol poisoning and I managed to maintain my healthy relationships with my long-term partner and other closer cuddle buddies, but I could see that potentially getting destructive if you have an addictive personality. Know how you cope and determine if those can potentially be destructive. If they can, try to find other ways to cope that are constructive like exercise or doing something creative like drawing, painting, coloring, writing (not work related), or seeing shows or something.

Second, find yourself a grad bestie. Cannot stress this one enough. Someone who is going through the same things you are, the one you can vent to about anything, ask for help, ask for favors, basically another you in grad school. It is way easier to go at this as a partnership rather than an every-man-for-themselves sort of deal.

I also echo what was previously said. Please eat and sleep. Write it down in your schedule if you have to. Take full 24 hours to do nothing related to your work. If you are feeling the early stages of burnout, take a break. You will encounter a feeling of "I should be writing" and maybe feel guilty for relaxing. If there is no deadline to it and you don't HAVE to do it for class or anything, then don't do it. Learn to say "no" to things.

Hope that helps!

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Get a pet. They end up becoming better therapists than the school will give you. A lot of it is going to depend on you as a person and your school. Scheduling and/or designating school time and non-school time hours has been really helpful for me. Like, most of the time I don't do school work past 7pm...etc. It's hard; but try to take at least one moment to feel awesome about yourself and what you've accomplished. Also, try and take moments to focus on the present- just a brief moment to feel some grass or look at the sky. It sounds stupid; but it's helpful.

Honestly, i'm not the best person to give advice on this; because I struggle with a lot of issues during my current grad school life. A competitive program that pits students against each other like it's the hunger games, and they isolate you. No man is an island...unless that man is a grad student at ECU. Myself and my rambling aside, the best advice I can give is just to find ways to vent and take moments to just soak things in. Sometimes life sucks and that's okay, and it's okay to let yourself be angry or sad or just live in the 'suckiness' for a brief moment.

Sorry I couldn't provide better advice- I also am currently sick, so my logic and grammar are suffering as a result.  I attached a picture of my hedgehog. Whenever i'm upset, spending time with her helps me to not be upset anymore.

14067691_10153849078663907_7639724423263694484_n.jpg

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15 hours ago, GameOfLoans said:

Get a pet. They end up becoming better therapists than the school will give you. A lot of it is going to depend on you as a person and your school. Scheduling and/or designating school time and non-school time hours has been really helpful for me. Like, most of the time I don't do school work past 7pm...etc. It's hard; but try to take at least one moment to feel awesome about yourself and what you've accomplished. Also, try and take moments to focus on the present- just a brief moment to feel some grass or look at the sky. It sounds stupid; but it's helpful.

Honestly, i'm not the best person to give advice on this; because I struggle with a lot of issues during my current grad school life. A competitive program that pits students against each other like it's the hunger games, and they isolate you. No man is an island...unless that man is a grad student at ECU. Myself and my rambling aside, the best advice I can give is just to find ways to vent and take moments to just soak things in. Sometimes life sucks and that's okay, and it's okay to let yourself be angry or sad or just live in the 'suckiness' for a brief moment.

Sorry I couldn't provide better advice- I also am currently sick, so my logic and grammar are suffering as a result.  I attached a picture of my hedgehog. Whenever i'm upset, spending time with her helps me to not be upset anymore.

14067691_10153849078663907_7639724423263694484_n.jpg

Omg hedgie~!! So cute!! I wish I could have one. California doesn't allow them :( Or at least I would have to jump through hoops to get one. But maybe the states I am thinking of going to can...Hmm....

Good advice on the pet!

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Tread carefully if you are considering dog ownership in grad school.  While my partner and I wouldn't trade our little mutt for anything now, he definitely complicates our work schedules.

Edited by jrockford27

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After 3 years of PhDing, and now planning to take my quals in two months, my best advice is as follows:

Don't try harder, try different. 

and

Your best is good enough.

As mostly high-achieving undergraduates, we are are generally taught that if we just try a bit harder, work a few more hours, put a bit more detail into that review, or polish that outline with a few more quotes, then everything will be better, and that if we aren't doing those things, then we aren't trying our hardest and achieving the standard that we should be able to.

Well, in graduate school, sooner or later, you will hit a point where you realize there aren't enough hours in the day to "try harder" without compromising your relationships, your physical/mental health, and even your professional future (working too hard causes burnout, and 6-7 years is a marathon, not a sprint). Instead of always assuming that the answer is to work a bit more, try to learn ways to work differently - to use time more efficiently, to set strict time limits on how many hours or days you devote to preparing a specific something (a lesson plan, for example), and to take breaks at set intervals and not get caught up on finishing that little thing that makes you skip cooking dinner and thus miss eating a quality meal that could raise your spirits. It's the little things that count - getting enough sleep, eating regularly, and spending time with friends on a consistent basis. 

Instead of going to bed thinking "man, I should have just stayed up 45 minutes longer to polish that review," say to yourself, "I did my best for today and it's 11pm, so I'm going to go brush my teeth and call it a night." Doing your best does NOT equal doing your hardest, if doing your hardest means detracting from your happiness. As long as you gave it your best effort and put in your time as scheduled with focus and dedication, you've done enough and you deserve to eat/sleep/cuddle/go to the park on Sunday for a few hours. 

Since I started prepping for quals, I look in the mirror every morning and say to myself "your best is good enough" at least once. I know it's cheesy as hell but I need the reminder, and it's helped me a lot.

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Not 100% sure how qualified I am to give advice on this because I'm currently experiencing it hardcore, but I'll give it a shot. 

First off, like @GameOfLoans suggested, if you grew up with pets or like them at all, get one. My gecko is my only solace sometimes. She's a little easier to manage than a fluffy animal while in grad school ( a few of my friends have cats or dogs and they're stretched more thin), but she's also a 25-30yr commitment. So do your research and find out what works best for you. Getting a pet was an amazing antidepressant. 

Find friends outside school, especially if your grad associates are into a lot of "toxic" releases. My classmates, for example, seem to pick "borderline alcoholism" as theirs. I love a good drink, but 2-3 drinks a week is good for me. They go hard 3-5 nights a week (5+ drinks each night). Some of them still get better grades than me, which is honestly just annoying. It also makes me feel kind of left out, because all they want to do is party and drink and no one really wants to just hang out. I don't really partake (because it's not fun to be around them if you're sober--I've tried), so they've stopped inviting me. It kind of sucks sometimes. My school is in a small town, so it's hard to find people outside, but you learn to make the most of a weekend day and take day trips to go on adventures. 

Find a place to study that works for you and makes you feel good. I go to a coffeeshop to study and totally suggest it if you like a busier study environment--I meet professors from different departments and other regulars, and it's great to get off campus. It's also just busy enough where I can be distracted when I need to be to get refreshed, but I never have any trouble focusing when I need to. It can totally refresh you. And, if you have good baristas, it can be a positive and supporting way to start (or end) the day. 

Make time for exercise, too. Even if it's just dancing around your apartment like a crazy person, get up and do it. It's easy to talk yourself into sitting to study for 10 and 12 hours at a time when you can see how it applies to your future, but moving is so important for your posture, sleep, and mental health. Sitting at a desk looking at books, a phone, or a laptop all day is the worst for posture. I hate what I view as menial exercise (treadmills are my enemies), so I took up dance again after giving it up in undergrad. Exercise also helps you sleep better because it tires you out physically to even out the mental exhaustion from school. It also releases endorphins, which can completely change your outlook on the day. 

Past those, I just echo what everyone else has said. Hope this helps!

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On 3/19/2017 at 7:57 PM, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello,

I read that graduate studies can be very solitary and difficult emotionally by nature. Also, its very competitive nature can be hard to manage. I know for myself that I am an over-achiever and that I can be prone to depression due to that. I just wanted to know, what are your tips to take care of your mental health and well-being throughout your studies?

Hello fellow Fall MSW'er! I don't know if you're pursuing a clinical track but regardless we should both probably make cultivating good self-care a lifetime goal. 

Myself, I am still repeatedly mentally preparing myself to feel OK about living on loans and work study. I know struggling for money was one of the most stressful parts of undergrad, and kept me from fully engaging with the campus. I'm going to try to take "a break" from beefing up my resume with volunteer activities, now that I'm finally in the field. I also pre-commited not to get too involved in campus politics, and focus on connecting with the city and larger professional community. 

When I visited Chicago last fall before I was accepted, I sought out what would likely be my resources for comfort when I was there. I found beautiful libraries, public parks and indoor gardens. There's a specialty pharmacy that stocks a lot of european imported skincare and bath goodies, and I will likely indulge there with a inexpensive bathtime treat or moisturizer regularly. I'm also a big fan of bathhouses, and there's some korean and russian ones in town I scoped out. Also decided that I can and should budget for an unlimited yoga membership, so that its always there for me and helps balance my time and makes me feel good in my body. 

 

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On ‎3‎/‎30‎/‎2017 at 8:54 AM, qt_dnvr said:

Also decided that I can and should budget for an unlimited yoga membership, so that its always there for me and helps balance my time and makes me feel good in my body. 

 

I don't know what part of Chicago you'll be living in, but I highly recommend Ahimsa Yoga Studio. I go there twice a week and love it.

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I'm a little curious about this, as I'll be doing a research-only (more or less) program, and I am prone to depression and distraction.  If I get in a nice groove, all will be well.  But I can see how it wouldn't.

Apart from all the above advice, which looks right on target, one useful hint I've seen recently has to do with structuring one's day.  You can generally work pretty well for an hour and a half at a time, so think of blocks that long.  The first is 9-10:30-- chances are, you won't have your head completely together so do something mechanical that absolutely needs doing but requires no real decision-making.  Organizing citations or filing, maybe-- the equivalent of paying bills.  Then tea/coffee, and by then you'll have figured out what to do in the other three blocks.  Those would be 11-12:30 (+ lunch break), 1:30-3, and then maybe 3:30-5.  Or, if you take a later dinner, go out for some exercise in mid-afternoon to really clean out your head.   For me, practicing my instrument and/or taking a long-ish but finite walk to a part of town I don't know could be a substitute.  

Perhaps looking ahead on Sunday night to punctuate all this with the lectures you'll want to go to, and any other commitments or deadlines will help put some overall shape on the week.

Of course, I can't report on that technique's success yet.  I'm still at home, sorting out family, office stuff, applications (finally finished), leaving less of a mess behind me, and the various vices that keep me sane-- all while thinking about next fall.  A lot is falling through the cracks.  But when I finally have one main job squeezing out the others for a few months at a stretch, while living in a small room, this might work.

Edited by Concordia

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I like the idea of organizing time in block, although I have never done it. After reading about PhD experiences, I am worried that I will not be spending enough time with my husband and doing other things that keep me sane, so I think I will try out this method.

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