1. Do you find yourself rationalizing your need for relaxation instead of just relaxing?

2. Do you often talk down about your own accomplishments?

3. Do you feel the need to take every offer, attend every meeting and join every committee?

If you said yes to any of these, you are probably a grad student and definitely need to be nicer to yourself. By giving this advice, I will say that this is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. I am probably one of the worst offenders to myself. Whenever I sit down to play video games or read a fiction novel I get this tension in my stomach that says I should be working. When I describe what I’m doing and my accomplishments I tend to downplay their significance. The last is probably my worst offense. I have the worst time saying no to the offer of getting to be a part of a new committee, or the request to attend a meeting or talk. Last year I had two fellowships, one teaching assistantship, one job, wrote for about 6 blogs, attended three conferences in one month, and was a full time student. And still I considered myself just a simple student who didn’t deserve a break.

This year I’ve made a promise to myself (and to my body, which suffered drastically from last year), that I would be nicer to me. In grad school (and beyond) there is a tendency for prestige to be put on the individuals who have the most stress and take the least breaks. But that is not being nice to yourself. the Here are the steps that I am taking in order to do so…

1. Allowing myself to relax more. I think we all need to let ourselves take more mini breaks. Set limits on your working times, and try to take at least one full day off to just enjoy yourself and life. We all deserve time to enjoy ourselves. We need to start seeing the beauty of a day off, and not allow stressed out to become the standard of productivity and excellence. See my other post on video games as stress relief for more on that topic. Think about it this way, when an athlete is in training, do they work out to the extreme every single day? No, they take breaks to let themselves refresh.

2. Trying not to describe life outside of graduate school as ‘the real world’. I have this habit of talking about non-academic jobs as being ‘real’, or discussing what I will do when I’m a ‘real’ person and out of school. I’m working this year on viewing graduate school as a job rather than another version of undergraduate education. We are not undergrads. Simply because we take classes and are working towards a degree doesn’t make our lives any less real than people with 9-5 jobs… they just get more vacations and the opportunity to actually take sick days.

3. I will say no. Okay, this one probably needs a major disclaimer. There are opportunities that will stress you out and take up time you don’t have, but they may be the chance that makes your career. Most opportunities that comes your way however are probably not going to result in a job or skill or even learning something. You need to learn to be strategic about what you say yes to. We are required to attend a number of department and university functions, as well as hold a job and get straight A’s in a full class load. You don’t need to add anything superfluous to this load. Not sure about what is the most strategic move? Ask an advisor, ask older grad students, or post it here as a comment.

We are about a month and a half into the new semester, and so far I’d say I’m doing a pretty good job of taking care of myself. I’m taking more breaks than I usually do, have a regular exercise schedule, have decreased my usage of the word ‘real’ as a descriptor by at least 50%, and have said no a number of times when it was appropriate. Sure, I’m still feeling the stress and still working my butt off, but I’m getting it under control.

What is your advice for being kind to yourself? What problems do you deal with?

[Photo by Flickr user CG Parkhouse and used under Creative Commons License]



9 Responses to Be Nice to Yourself

  1. Terry Brock says:

    Wonderful points. I am also working on saying “no” this year. I have just enough major projects on my plate, dissertation included, and I don’t need anything else to keep me busy. Treating grad school as a job is also critical: this means “winter break” and “spring break” aren’t breaks at all…an adjustment that took a while.

  2. Cory Owen says:

    Love the advice. I tend to compartmentalize my life a lot (which may be good or bad), but it is my coping method for holding down two full-time jobs and being a full-time grad student. It does help me set aside “me time” a little more easily since it is a fourth category for me to focus on.

    I also love your example of using video games as a de-stresser. I just had an oh-so-romantic video game date with my husband where we played Resistance 3 for a few hours. Or combining my video game time with students for my RA job. I’ve even brought my Wii for activities with my students for my day job!

    I also think that committing to some type of team sport helps regulate “fun” time. For example, I’m on a dart league which plays every Wednesday. That means, no matter what is piling up around me, I know that I can take a few hours every week to just relax, have a few beers, and hang out with some non-academic/non-work friends. This really helps to kind of reset me when I’m feeling rundown.

  3. Katy Meyers says:

    One thing that I didn’t add to this list but that I think is pretty pertinent, especially after reading Terry’s comment, is that we need to learn to take vacations. Since I’ve been treating grad school like a job I don’t actually take those ‘breaks’. And while we can’t take the month winter break- we do need to recognize that we should take some form of vacation whether it be a couple weeks during the summer, or a few long weekends.

  4. Charlotte Marie Cable says:

    One prominent mental health “workbook” (self-described) suggests 1 hr per day, 1 day per week, and one week out of every 12-16 weeks should be vacation time. That comes out to an entire month of vacation-time…

  5. Taylor says:

    Great post, Trent! As a fellow graduate student, I can really relate. I’ve found I have the same issue of not being nice to myself but it is manifested differently for me: The pressure to succeed, progress, publish, know things, etc. that I place on myself as measures of success in grad school often paralyze me from being productive and working toward those very goals. Or I get into the mindset that “It’s not going to be good enough, so why bother?” and forget that the process of learning is often more valuable than the product itself.

  6. […] and I’ve gotten a lot of useful ideas from its posts. Some of my favorite posts are on how to be nice to yourself (quite germane especially considering my recent post!), grad students and the digital humanities, […]

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