Once again, the end of the semester is near, which means each night’s sleep gets progressively shorter. I keep telling myself that graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint, but it seems that every few couple of miles I need to sprint. The work to complete graduate school is a tough enough task on its own. When coupled with the stress of low pay, dim job prospects in the future, and the type of personal problems that hit everyone regardless of career, it is enough to question what you are doing with your life. And with that lovely introduction, I want to give a few suggestions for staying sane in graduate school.
Blow off steam
Taking a walk, going for a run, bitching about your workload or the class you TA for to a friend or pet, meditating, yelling into a pillow, punching the wall (you may want to get a punching bag instead though), or any other activity that will help you work out the stress of graduate school is essential. Though it is probably the most obvious suggestion, without a method to get rid of some of the day-to-day stress, graduate school becomes a monumental task.
Blowing off steam can help you de-stress through productive activities like exercising or therapeutic ones like complaining, guilty pleasures, on the other hand, are activities that give you a moment of respite from the day’s worries. Think more fun, but less productive. A few of mine include playing in a few fantasy sports leagues, obsessing about Notre Dame football, anything created by Joss Whedon, and foods that are either chocolaty or deep-fried. I think of guilty pleasures like a power nap. Spending a short amount of time on something you genuinely enjoy (and that is not related to your work), can re-energize you as you try and tackle your day.
I will be the first to admit, I have neglected this piece of advice more than I have liked this semester as I try to finish my MA thesis. However, I always say that going to happy hour with other graduate students is one of the best ways a graduate student can spend her or his time. Even if you do not drink, spending some social time with other people is vital to maintaining sane in the often isolating experience of graduate school (history can be particularly solitary at times). Not only do social events provide the opportunity for you to blow off steam and distract you from the pile of work sitting at home, I have found one of the most valuable resources for navigating graduate students is other graduate students. Even if that may seems obvious, I have learned so much from students further along in the program than me and I cannot stress that point enough. Particularly as a new student trying to figure out how to work your way through the politics of a department, the best resource is students who have already spent time navigating.
There is no reason to limit your interaction with graduate students to in person contact either. I have found twitter to be a great resource for connecting and interacting with other students and scholars, even if those I have never met in person. Similarly, there are groups that are more explicitly meant to be resources for graduate students, like H-Net’s H-Grad listserv (disclaimer: I’m currently an editor so, no surprise, I think it’s great), which provides a private, graduate student-only forum for students to draw on the experience of others across the globe (though the majority are probably in the US).
If all else fails, I tell myself to just keep swimming.