By Anthony Garcia
For anyone who has completed or is currently working through a graduate degree program, you know the immense pressure and stress that can come with grad school. Add in the factor that many graduate students also trying to balance a home life, a career, coursework and research, and the mix can be potentially harmful to your health. Too much work under too much demand causes physical stress to go through the roof.
Unfortunately, we know that high stress has negative consequences for the body. The effects of stress have been repeatedly documented as chronic rises in a body's level of cortisol, a stress hormone, and causes damaging effects. At its most fundamental level, stress triggers the "fight or flight" awareness in the body. When operating at this level of adrenaline and hormone release regularly, the body begins to suffer. It's like running a car engine at the redline RPM level without a break; at some point parts wear down and the engine begins to stall.
Even if you are a stressed out grad student, it is critical for your health to reduce stress. Sleep, maintaining fitness, keeping a good diet, and good time planning can all contribute to reducing graduate school stress.
Sleep is especially important for your ability to perform at a high level consistently and regularly. This is the physical period when the body can heal and regenerate naturally. Getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep should be sufficient time for the body to enter rapid-eye-movement sleep. Under this mode the body and the mind fully relax, enhancing physical recovery from stress and wear during the day. Going with less cuts into this healing time and reduces the body's ability to shut down for recovery. Sleep is controllable, despite deadlines and school demands. If needed, you can ask your doctor for sleep aides or muscle relaxants. Chamomile tea also helps.
Getting enough sleep will make maintaining fitness less work as well. Keeping fit is another important factor in reducing stress, and will help keep the grad school weight gain to a minimum. You don’t need to spend four hours a day running. Just 45 minutes a day of exercise with an elevated heartbeat can significantly boost endurance, stress recovery, cardiovascular improvement, and blood pressure management.
Eating energy high foods and avoiding processed sugars (I know, very difficult) allows the right fuels to go into your body to provide energy. Your mind burns a significant amount of calories when studying, even if physically you're just sitting. Trying as much as possible to eat natural protein, vegetables, and fiber will allow your body to retain its energy level without physical depletion. The opposite will cause your body to protect core functions, making you tired and reducing your ability to study and think properly.
Also, don't forget to take a multi-vitamin supplement and a fiber supplement. The fact is, when rushing around between work and graduate school, or teaching and researching, etc., you may not get all the necessary food you need daily. By including a multi-vitamin and fiber supplement, you fill in those dietary gaps that sometimes get missed. For example, taking B12 has really helped me boost my energy, and Vitamin D helps with mood and energy as well.
Organization is perhaps the most important element for staying as stress-free as possible. Even though a graduate students’ workload is intense, stress usually gets caused by panic and frustration. By cutting down on time issues that cause anxiety, your stress will reduce as well. Blocking out time for study, research, work, personal errands, and rest each day makes the process manageable. The same applies to planning; compartmentalize larger tasks. By planning grocery visits, bedtimes, and going to the gym, and by working and researching in blocks of time, you can significantly reduce your stress in grad school.
Thanks Anthony for such a great guest post!
Peace, Love and Happy Blogging