Maintaining Your Mental Health in Graduate School

28 FEB 2022

In 2018, Science.org reported that over 41% of graduate students worldwide have moderate to severe anxiety, and 39% have moderate to severe depression— over six times higher than the general population. Here are some techniques for maintaining your mental health in graduate school.  

From hypercompetitive academic environments, to food insecurity, to discrimination against those with marganalized or intersecting identities, there are a number of factors affecting the mental health of graduate students. Though many of these issues are endemic to academia and are in need of reform, there are still ways for you to take ownership of your mental health while at the same time pushing for mental health-positive policies on graduate school campuses.  

object Object0. Exercise Every Day

Research can be all-consuming, but it’s important to make time for daily exercise to burn off stress and keep your mind sharp. Just walking through your neighborhood, hopping on a bike, or doing yoga for 30 minutes a day can help your body and mind to stay healthy. These breaks can also help boost your productivity by giving your mind time to rest, process information, and see things differently. If you need any more motivation: Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity while out on his bike.  

object Object0. Get Enough Sleep

Like exercise, sleep can be one of the first routines that we abandon when school gets difficult. The perfect amount of sleep is different for everybody, but it’s important to know how much your body requires and to make every effort to get those hours of rest every night. You should also practice good sleep hygiene by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day and by avoiding screens for at least 30 minutes before going to bed.    

object Object0. Eat well

Eating healthy provides you with more energy, better focus, and better ability to regulate emotions, all of which can lead to greater productivity and better mental health. There are lots of healthy and filling meals that can be cooked on a limited budget. Check a few of them out here.   However, according to a study published by Cambridge, over 40% of graduate students live with food insecurity. Check to see if your campus has a graduate student food bank. If not, consider organizing with your classmates and department to set one up.    

object Object0. Set boundaries between work and regular life

It can be easy to get caught up in the graduate school grind and forget to set aside space for yourself. With so much work now online, we often carry our responsibilities around with us wherever we go. Try setting up “office hours” for writing, grading, emails, and research. Outside of these blocks of time, create moments to do things unrelated to your studies. Play an instrument, draw, read, solve a puzzle, meditate, or watch a movie. You are more than just your work, and doing the things that make you happy will help you to remember that.     

object Object0. Get Organized

Humans are social animals— we need each other to survive. Because of this, it’s important to spend time with your classmates. Check in on them if they’re struggling, and never hesitate to ask for help. Try organizing regular social gatherings. There’s strength in numbers too. Consider joining student unions to negotiate better wages, better access to mental healthcare, better protections for marginalized students, and campus food pantries. If there are no active unions on campus, consider forming one with graduate students from across different university departments to negotiate better working conditions.   

Final thoughts

Though there are many factors contributing to the current graduate school mental health crisis, it is important to realize that you can take the first steps to take charge of your mental health. If you are suffering, you are not alone. Never hesitate to reach out to professors, classmates, family, or counseling centers and ask for help.