By Nick Repak
It is essential to develop effective coping skills while in graduate school to succeed in a healthy manner, both while in graduate school and later in life. An individual’s reaction to, and ability to cope with stress may be more important than lessening the load.
The problem of burnout demands that the graduate student possess a strong ego identity. This inner sense gives confidence to the individual and coherence to life experience, which frees the student to cope with the pressures of academia.
Developing adequate methods of dealing with stress throughout a lifetime involves recognizing weaknesses, utilizing strengths and employing outside sources. To aid in developing a strategy for coping, we have included the following practical recommendations for dealing with the burnout syndrome.
1. Journal your progress.
Journaling your progress in dealing with stress and burnout will enable you to identify how this syndrome operates personally in your experience and to seek solutions. Some possible suggestions are:
- Begin to analyze your destructive “self-talk” – identify the statements that you say to yourself that minimize your worth and are false statements of your progress and accomplishments. Don’t compare yourself to superperformers. Be aware of what you require to remain refreshed and do not attempt to maintain the same pace as them.
- Identify your strengths and give yourself the opportunity to rebuild confidence through utilizing them.
- “Mark your trail” when exhaustion sets in. Begin describing the conditions that bring it on, the symptoms by which you identify it and the most efficient means to deal with the problem. Take note of your progress and remember that healthy change takes longer than expected.
2. Manage time and set personal priorities.
Without good time management, burnout becomes a high probability. When attempting time management consider: First, conserving time – be wise with the hours in the day. Set a schedule, but don’t be forced to follow it absolutely. Second, controlling time – learn to say “no” where possible and follow through. Third, making time – realize priorities, reorganize them, and stick to what is important. The following are some suggestions for making use of your time:
- Find privacy where the telephone can’t ring and people can’t interrupt.
- Get an appropriate amount of sleep. Add one-half hour of sleep each day until you wake up on your own to assess your biological need. You can go for a brief period of shortened nights for extended study hours but do not sustain this schedule for long periods of time.
- Allow yourself leisure time and take vacations – even if for a day. Include types of leisure that refresh (alone and in a quiet atmosphere) and that give perspective, i.e. reading an article in another field, novels, listening to music, cooking (or even escaping to the graduate coffee house).
- Exercise regularly – even regular walks will help.
- Eat properly balanced meals. Plan menus for two weeks and freeze large dishes. Plan meals around socializing to give more time for interpersonal relationships.
3. Cultivate relationships.
To cope with burnout, acknowledge your need for interaction with other people. Although finding time for relationships is a challenge for graduate students, social networks add a balance that is vital to alleviating stress. Here are some areas to appraise:
- Assess your current friendships. Which of these are at the acquaintance level the companionship level or the established-friendship level? How could these relationships be cultivated with the goal of seeing them progress to a higher level than they are at the present?
- Develop interaction networks. Consider exercising with a group of people to be accountable to one another and maximize the aerobic benefits.
- Find ways to get out of yourself and get your focus off your condition. Look for opportunities to serve your peers, the campus community, and the less fortunate in your city.
4. Develop your worldview.
Your philosophy of life is vital to achieving purpose and fulfillment. Acquiring a perspective on your place in society and contribution to life will help guard against feelings of discouragement and meaninglessness that deepens emotional fatigue. In assessing your worldview, here are some essential questions to consider:
- What is the highest priority of your life?
- What would you like the biggest priority of your life to be in 40 years?
- Is there a cause (or causes) for which you would sacrifice your personal standard of living?
- If someone asked you to describe the principles by which you live your life, what would you say?
- Are there any absolute rights or wrongs? What are they?
- How do you make decisions? For example: How will you decide upon your future job placement? The person you decide to marry?
- What is one question that you would most like answered about life?
- If you could change one thing about our world what would it be?
What do you perceive to be your calling, the ideals for which you work? Is it consistent with the highest priorities of your life and with the principles by which you live? Are you living out these views in your academic life? The answers you formulate for these questions reveal your perception of life. In addition, by forming a realistic and accurate worldview, you increase your ability to deal with burnout and fatigue in an effective way and forge an inner purpose upon which you can build for the rest of your life.
Nick Repak is the founder of the National Graduate Student Crisis Line, and currently serves as Director, of Grad Resources. A non-profit organization based in Dallas, Texas, Grad Resources serves the practical and emotional needs of graduate students on several university campuses across the United States.
Graduation Photo: Brian Moore
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