I came to a startling and dark realization during a recent conversation with a friend whose schedule was the most jam packed of any person I knew. I asked her how she was doing. She was listing the unfathomable amount of work she had to do, and in a tired, but trying to be optimistic voice she said
“But it’s fine, I’m fine”.
I hear this from grad students all the time, but we all know that fine never means that you are happy and doing well. I used that word so often in instances where I was barely coping, but hey I was still showing up everyday, so everything was fine, right? This feeling would be short term; once this paper was submitted, once this semester was over…
But that is the problem with grad school, there is always more to do, there is always someone doing more, and appearing to do a better job of it than you.
Wait, but isn’t grad school is supposed to be hard?
True, grad school should be challenging, but it should not have long lasting negative impacts on your mental health. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening for a surprising number of grad students. Depending on the study, anywhere from 30% to 70% of grad students are struggling with clinical levels of anxiety and depression.
What is the takeaway of this uplifting information?
This situation is not okay. We need to wage a war on FINE. You deserve to have your time here be an overall positive and transformative experience. But the key to that is being proactive in building and maintaining mental wellness. Here are a few of the things that I have found helpful.
What makes you feel good? Well…do it. Put these things in your schedule and treat them like important meetings that you cannot miss under any circumstances. Is it hiking, hanging out with friends, cooking, reading fantasy novels, meditation, exercising? Forget what you like? Maybe try something new or meet new people. Queen’s Habitat can hook you up. And fight the urge when you feel guilty about taking this time because IT IS essential for your success.
The less you sleep the more you can accomplish, right? Sorry. Sleep is strongly linked to our mental health, and both are linked to our ability to engage with cognitively demanding tasks, aka grad school. Depression and anxiety have accompanying sleep problems but persistent sleep difficulties can increase your risk of depression and anxiety. Click here or here for helps getting sleep back on track.
We are in a competitive setting, where our work and ideas are continually critiqued. When we are critical of ourselves, we falsely belief that it will motivate us to be better, but that only works in the very short term. Being nice to ourselves actually increases our motivation and helps us deal with stress in the long term. Start paying attention to how to speak to yourself and you’ll probably realize it is not very kind. Click here or here for resources on cultivating self- compassion.
Learn to say No
This took me 4 years, okay probably more like 27 years to learn – when someone asks you to take on more work, they are not taking into consideration how much work you have or other things you have going on. They need you to tell them. It is okay to say no, but it is difficult if you are not used to doing it. Here are two resources to debunk our beliefs about assertively saying no and steps on how to do it.
Take time to see if you are doing well or if you are just doing fine. Mental wellness is not created by taking a 15 minute break once a month, but through intentional daily practice. Even if you are not currently struggling these things are preventative. Make yourself a priority.
GRAD SCHOOL IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT.
These recommendations are certainly not exhaustive. Check out these great resources from Queen’s for managing stress, managing time, and how to make an appointment with counselling services. You are never alone in dealing with the stress, anxiety, and depression that can come with grad studies.
Let us know what has been difficult for you during graduate school and how you have waged the war on FINE.