gh -brainKaitlin Gallagher is a PhD Candidate specializing in Biomechanics at the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and a permanent author for GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @KtlnG.

Thursday October 10th is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Mental Health Day. Previous articles have chronicled grad student mental health issues, specifically related to anxiety and depression. So what does it mean to take care of your mental health? Answers could include medication, counseling, and better work-life balance.  But such solutions don’t answer the question about what we as grad students can do to improve the mental health status of our community.

This article is not only geared to those diagnosed with a disorder, but to anyone who has felt like they will never finish, has endured the post-comprehensive exam burnout, been in the open-ended proposal or all-but-dissertation stages. While graduate school is challenging, none of us deserve to feel like crappier versions of our best self while pursuing it.

Here is a by-no-means exhaustive list of 15 tips for how we can take care of our mental health and of those in the grad student community.

1.    Have open discussions with peers (both within and outside of school) about the perils of graduate school.

2.    Be honest with yourself and others. Are you doing what you want? Do you actually tell people how your degree is going when they ask you?

3.    Concentrate on your degree and take control of your destiny. Comparing yourself to others doesn’t help unless you learn from these people and take action towards your degree.

4.    Learn to say no.

5.    Take some quiet time to yourself. Do something you love or engage in meditation and mindfulness exercises.

6.    Seek help early from your colleagues, supervisor, counselor and/or doctor.

7.    Pay attention to your life outside of school. This includes financial, social, household, and personal hygiene maintenance.

8.    Eat well. GradHacker has written posts about how to eat well as a grad student on a budget. Scoping the internet for interesting food blogs or cool ideas can help make this a less stressful task.

9.    Exercise will help out with your mental health and also give you a break from your studies. Make sure you schedule it into your calendar like you would anything else.

10. Find ways to make your tasks more efficient. Make the effort to find systems that will make your life easier. David Allen’s Getting Things Done, using code to streamline processing, incorporating checklists into my data collections, and using an app called lift to keep track of daily non-school tasks work very well for me.

11. Eliminate the word “should” from your vocabulary. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, didn’t. Dwelling on what you should have done in the past is of no use to your future. It also increases our sense of shame over perceived failures.

12. Educate yourself about common issues grad students face. Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, procrastination are a few things that you can educate yourself about early in your degree so you can spot the issues in yourself and others as you progress.

13. Educate your family and friends about common issues grad students face. If the people who are important to you know about the issues you may face, they can look out for you as well.

14. Confront your fears early. Hate giving presentations? Don’t let this fear fester. The earlier you deal with such fears the less time this fear has to build up and get worse.

15. Make sleep a priority.  

What tips would you give for taking care of your mental health in grad school? Leave your tips in the comments below or on twitter using #ghmiaw.

[Image taken by Flickr user Hey Paul Studios and used under the Creative Commons License]


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