Dealing with Stress in Grad School

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Feeling irritable? Performance in school slipping? Ready to just give up? Take a deep breath. You’re stressed.

Graduate school can be one of the most stressful times of a person’s life, particularly if the student has other responsibilities such as work or a family.

Dealing with stress in graduate school is nearly inevitable given the volume of reading and research students are expected to complete. Graduate students should anticipate a certain amount of stress, but aid is available for those who need help with ways to deal with stress.

Stress is an emotional and bodily reaction to physical, physiological or emotional demands. The two main types of stress are eustress and distress. Eustress keeps a person feeling alert and is often a motivator. Distress occurs when the body overreacts to events and can cause health problems.

What’s ailing you

Many grad students dealing with stress suffer from burnout and emotional exhaustion or fatigue. Emotional fatigue can profoundly affect student performance and personal commitment. Most grad students struggle with emotional fatigue at some point, and it leads some to abandon schooling completely.

Stress can be caused by lack of time, financial pressure or an excessive workload. Students who feel a lack of balance and free time are prone to feeling stress. In addition, those who feel they are not receiving enough support from professors and family members often end up feeling stressed.

Dealing with stress in grad school can sometimes boil down to a simple issue of time management, and if a job and family are added to the equation, the situation can worsen. Stress can result from feeling stuck in the monotonous day-to-day and from feeling that you are not moving ahead in life. It is also tied tightly to expectations – whether they are expectations you have of yourself or those that others have of you.

Stress is both a physiological and cognitive issue. Graduate students experiencing burnout may develop physiological symptoms such as decreased stamina, interrupted sleep patterns and weight gain or loss. Other symptoms include psychosomatic complaints, substance abuse and increased blood pressure.

The cognitive elements of stress and emotional fatigue include depression, isolation/passivity, marital/family conflict and aggression. Other elements include rigidity, mental illness and poor self-esteem. These physiological and cognitive issues can lead to a decline in the quality of schoolwork, a change in plans for a degree, harm to interpersonal relationships and jeopardized career plans.


When dealing with stress in school, students must first acknowledge the stress they are feeling for what it is. With the right combination of coping styles and support, stress can be alleviated. Stressed-out students need to be in tune with themselves and their own internal alarms and red flags. Ask yourself questions like:

Have I been neglecting the things I enjoy doing in favor of my studies?

Is my schoolwork suffering from how I feel?

Do I feel as if I am overexerted?

Asking questions and assessing yourself can help you gain perspective and realize that you do not have to be perfect. You can use many coping styles to deal with stress, and managing your time is one of the most helpful. While this may initially sound like a pain, you should try to schedule everything, including some free time, and write that schedule down. Once you have compartmentalized and prioritized your responsibilities, you can come up with a better plan of attack to get them met.

It is imperative that you not allow stress in school to cause you to live an unhealthy lifestyle.

Stay Healthy

You need the proper amount of rest as well as nutritious meals. Do not skip food and sleep to get something done, especially since your work will suffer from it. You will always be able to find some opportunity to take a nap, even if it’s only for 30 minutes, and to pack down some sort of snack while studying.

Just say No

Learning to say “no” is another crucial way of coping with stress, and planning is key in helping you find the ability to do so. You simply cannot do everything, and quality time for yourself is important when dealing with stress.

Write it down

Keeping a journal can be helpful, as you have the opportunity to analyze destructive statements and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Attitude is extremely important in dealing with stress. Stress-busting attributes include self-confidence, patience and punctuality. You should try to remain positive and have some fun. Your thoughts feed your feelings and actions, so don’t dwell on past decisions, just move forward.

Talk it out with friends

Fostering relationships and networking can help you deal with stress. Seek out a classmate with whom you have something in common, as it is likely he or she is dealing with similar stressors. Avoid relationships with people who tempt you to shirk your responsibilities, and look for people who make you feel good about yourself. Reaching out can be the best thing for you.

It’s to be expected

Dealing with stress in school is common in grad school, and you are not alone. A recent study by the American College Health Association found that 75 percent of college students feel overwhelmed. We all function best with a certain amount of stress in our lives, but when it becomes too much, we become burnt out. However, life is not a race and should not be treated as such. You should expect unanticipated interruptions, especially if you have a family.

The best time to study is during the period of the day during which you feel the most energetic. We all have our own individual times when we are most physically and mentally alert, so you should schedule classes and study sessions during those times to maximize your effectiveness.

Most grad students are by nature driven, high achievers, and that fosters an environment vulnerable to stress. Sometimes it is helpful to emulate those who seem naturally resistant to stress. These people focus on immediate issues and assume their problems are temporary. They also tend to be optimistic and give themselves credit for a job well-done. Also, you have to recognize that just because you’ve been a straight “A” student your entire life does not mean you should expect a 4.0 in grad school. Schoolwork is different, expectations are different and results are different. Grades don’t matter as much as what you actually learn, so don’t lose your mind if you get a “B” on your first research paper. You’re still smarter than most of your peers, and you’re still setting yourself up for a terrific and successful future.

If you are dealing with stress in school and cannot find relief, perhaps you should seek professional help. After all, it is important to realize what stress really is. Stress is a challenge and an occurrence that promotes growth. Stress is also a natural event that can be viewed as humorous if you have the right attitude.

But stress is also the number-one health problem in the United States. For more information on how to deal with stress, and make sure it doesn’t affect your health, visit and the American Psychological Association online.

Don’t worry, you can get through this. Just keep telling yourself it’s not that bad. It’s not that bad.



Essential Items to Have as a Grad Student

Gone are the days of sleeping late, partying early, and attending only half of your classes.

You are now a graduate student and the expectations are just a bit higher. It’s time to step up your game and be prepared in every manner speaking. So why not ensure you have all the essential items you need to succeed in grad school with you at all times.

Purchase a Lightweight Laptop

Do you want to show up to class taking notes in a notebook or a monster of a laptop? Bite the bullet and get yourself a super lightweight, easy to transport laptop or tablet hybrid. Make sure you can type on it easily and it gets good battery life. This is the single most important tool you can invest in that will help you stay organized and on top of your work throughout your grad school experience. Plus you’ll just look cooler and more in the know if you take the time to research this purchase and make a great investment. Visit PC World for reviews and comparisons.

It’s all in the Bag

Once you have your laptop purchased, find yourself a great bag. Look for something that suits your personality while at the same time presents a professional image. Take time with this purchase and check out different bags. Find one you love that also has the right amount of compartments and space to help keep you organized. You want to be able to access whatever you are looking for quickly.

Yes, You Need Business Cards

You are going back to graduate school to become a professional. One of the most significant things you can gain during the experience is an enhanced network of friends in your field of interest. Take advantage of your time there and be sure to let people know who you are. You can get business cards in a lot of places but probably the easiest and least expensive route for professional looking cards is VistaPrint. Take the time before you begin class, to put your details together in one of their great business card templates. Make sure you have a strong and professional email address for this purpose.

Other Tech Gadgets

You will find it invaluable to have with you an ipod, headphones and a USB stick. Music during downtime, or to block out unwanted noise while studying is great, but you can also use it to listen to audiocasts regarding all kinds of subject matter. If your phone works just as well as an ipod, save the room in your bag, but don’t forget about the headphones. A USB stick will be incredibly helpful in sharing files, notes and assignments with your classmates. Buy some that are inexpensive and have a few handy at all times that you won’t mind lending out. Try to get the ones with attached covers so you never have to worry about losing that part of it.

Band-Aids, Cough Drops & Advil Oh My!

Chances are that you, or one of your classmates, will require these items at some point in the upcoming semesters. There is nothing worse than having to sit through a long class with a pounding headache or persistent cough or having to go out of your way to find a band-aid. Aside from your own well being, this is an opportunity to be prepared. Be the person that people go to if they need help. It’s just one more way to build up your network of friends and acquaintances.

A Water Bottle…and Not the Kind That Ends up in Landfills

It is a given that your time in grad school will be incredibly busy and very stressful. Throughout the experience, it’s important to make sure you take care of yourself. One of the easiest and best ways of doing this is to stay hydrated. Most of us don’t drink nearly enough water and this is worsened by stress and busy schedules. Make a point to have a refillable water bottle with you at all times and stay hydrated so you can be at your best throughout the day.



Traveling During Grad School

If you’re a grad student, it’s easy to come up with reasons not to travel.

It costs a lot (and you’re low on funds). It takes time (and you have a thesis to write). If you’re a teaching or research assistant, it requires time off from work (and your supervisor might not approve). But in spite of these obstacles, there are distinct benefits to traveling while you’re still in graduate school. Here’s why you should make the effort.

You’ll make useful connections

When you’re getting an advanced degree, it can feel like you’ll be in school forever. But believe it or not, the day will come when you’re sprung from the warm embrace of academia and will need to find a place for yourself in the thrilling world of work. And when that happens, it is really, really helpful to have a wide-flung network of people who are willing to help you make connections and set you up with relevant opportunities. How to build this network? Go on wide-flung adventures and build a network of like-minded people all over the world. Just don’t forget to follow up with them on LinkedIn or other social media networks in order to maintain those connections after arriving back home.

You’ll learn valuable skills

In today’s globalized economy, employers are looking for workers who are capable of making cross-cultural connections and keeping the big picture in mind at all times. Traveling is a great way to expand these abilities while building on other employable skills such as creative thinking, adaptability and problem solving, the ability to work independently, a willingness to embrace risks, and/or speaking a foreign language. Traveling while in school has also been shown to improve learning outcomes overall.

You’ll gain real-world perspective

Time spent in the field—either as part of a formal education experience or independent travel—can expose you to different research methodologies, help you uncover new interests that may inform your personal and professional goals moving forward, and provide you with real-world context for your chosen field of study. It’s one thing to study the impact of European colonialism in Quito, Ecuador or apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa; it’s quite another to witness the long-term ramifications with your own two eyes.

You’ll master the art of self-presentation

Remember those connections we referenced above? Making them provides an awesome opportunity to get comfortable telling other people what you do and what you’re all about. Traveling to academic or industry conferences is a particularly great way to practice these professional conversations. Not only can you try out your elevator speech, but you can do so with colleagues and experts in your chosen field. (Do it politely enough, and they might even be willing to give you a few pointers.) By the time you get to your first job interview, talking about your professional achievements will feel like a piece of cake.

You’ll relieve stress

The life of a grad student is packed with all kinds of stressors, from worrying about grades and dissertation reviews to fretting over your employment prospects come graduation. Traveling presents a great way to escape from these stresses and gain some much-needed rejuvenation so that you’re able to avoid burnout and finish your degree with your health—and future prospects—still fully intact. Whether you’re traveling to Miami or Moscow, try to build in time for some quality R&R.

In addition to the benefits listed above, there’s some evidence that traveling as a student is so beneficial it may even predict higher grades in school and higher incomes later in life. Regardless of whether you ever uncover a direct correlation between your adventures and your pay grade, it’s clear that traveling is a great way to promote your long-term personal and professional success.