Bits of Self Care for Graduate Students

November 18, 2012
In the chaos of normal day to day grad school life, it's not abnormal to forget to breathe once in a while.

I don't mean that literally, of course... then it would be a bit abnormal and one should see a doctor about it immediately.  I'm referring to what should be the "simple act" of taking care of oneself.

I admit it, I am not the healthiest person on the planet.  Throughout my years of graduate study I've become a bit of a couch potato.

Or a lot.

It isn't healthy.  It isn't right.  But I did it anyway because it was easier to go with my initial desire of sitting down after a long day of studies/work/dissertation drafting to allow myself to just settle, relax, and watch Sherlock on Netflix.  It was easier to do that than go to the gym, or to the park for a run, or even a short walk (and who isn't left flabbergasted by Sherlock's observational and deductive reasoning skills?).  It was also easier to make a quick stop at my local fast food drive-thru on my way back home at night than to actually cook anything, especially being a not-so-good-cook myself.

It would be nice if people did what we know is best for us.  But we don't.  We're human!  

Nowadays I take self care very seriously.  I've encountered health problems that at my age I really shouldn't have, due in part to a lack of self care habits.  So I got a gym membership.

It sounds like more work... but when we go to the gym for even a brief workout we feel better.  This is no secret.  Any health advocate might tell you that.  So you don't need me to publish a blog post about why it is important and what the benefits are.  You're an intelligent person, you have figured that out yourself.

But gym memberships cost money that could otherwise go to transportation, textbooks, or tuition.  And, unless you own a TARDIS or a time-turner, there are only 24 hours in the day.  Time at the gym means time away from home, away from our spouses or children.  Whatever the reason, many people are more pre-contemplative about making that decision.

(^what grad school feels like sometimes^)

Here are three quick bits of advice:

*STOP spending money on unhealthy snacks (you know which ones!) and put it toward fruit.  If you live near a place that holds farmer's markets weekly, it might be a good idea to stock up, or if not, you might be able to go to your local grocery store and buy a bag of apples or oranges. Take a few minutes to skim through the local store adverts for deals.  In the long run, it will be healthier for both your body and your wallet.  Unless you have a limit to your allowed natural sugar intake, which I do -_-...

*Make time for socializing in real life.  Nowadays it seems SO MUCH EASIER to log in to Facebook to feel like you're socializing.  You're not, you're staying in touch with people, but it doesn't replace RL interactions.  Socializing should involve face to face contact and conversation, not a monitor and keyboard.

*Find a hobby.  Okay, so aside from socializing IRL, maybe you want to download an MMO on our PC (or Mac, whatever).  Maybe you want to spend some time in a virtual environment that fulfills your need to achieve and be recognized and rewarded for those achievements, your desire for social justice (you're going down, final boss!), and your need to belong to a group (joining a guild).  Massively Multiplayer Online Games can fulfill those needs, and some are available to play for free, while some let you download the free trial version.

Maybe you don't like games.  Maybe you like to craft in real life.  I think that many of us have a creative side, an inner artist that is kept hidden during the grind of graduate school life.  Yes, you want to learn, yes you want to pass the exams, you want to do the work and earn that degree, but that creative side needs nourishment too.  One of my classmates enjoys making greeting cards, or knitting, and selling her projects online or giving them away to friends and family.  It gives her a sense of achievement, and she is rewarded for spending time on other things she enjoys doing.  It is its own reinforcement.

Maybe you like to read and want a break from the assigned readings.  It might sound like betrayal to drop, or gently set aside, the textbook for an hour and pick up a book for pleasure (WHAAAT?!), but sometimes not only could you use a little break, but it might actually help with concentration and information intake once you come back to the assigned readings and study material with a clear and satisfied mind.

If all else fails, please remember to breathe.

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