Student Column

Self care for graduate students

Balancing the demands of work and life will make you healthier, happier and more productive.

By Alexa Lopez

We've all been there: two papers due for class, leading journal club this week, working against a revision deadline for that manuscript you're trying to get published, meeting with your advisor to go over your next degree requirement, and research participants are scheduled during almost all of your spare hours. You barely have any time to get all of these requirements completed, let alone carving out time to spend with your friends/significant other. While it may be difficult to find time for self-care, balancing the demands of work and life will make you healthier, happier and more productive.

It's easy to dismiss our own stress, especially working in a high-paced, competitive environment such as graduate school. However, there are ways to recognize and alleviate the imbalance you may be facing. APA's gradPSYCH magazine1 and Self-Care website2 are resources to turn to when you feel the symptoms of stress. Importantly, they offer tips and tricks that you can adopt into your everyday life. Balancing work, relationships, and personal time may have you feel like you're juggling too many responsibilities at once. Although this can be possible in the short-term, it is not sustainable. Carol Williams-Nickerson, PhD3 advises that we need to stop juggling and do the following:

  1. Focus. Focus on a particular activity in certain environments (e.g., go to the library when you need to work on writing for class). You may also find that you need to turn off your cell phone, block social media websites, or only check your email during certain times of the day.
  2. Delegate. If possible, try to offload some of your responsibilities. Ask your partner or roommates to tackle housework or cooking dinner during certain days of the week. Utilize offered resources at your college, such as an editor that works for a fee to help format your thesis or dissertation.
  3. Consolidate. Rely on your support network. Get together a group of graduate students for studying, writing sessions, dinners, and/or exercise.
  4. Simplify. Commit to reducing activities or habits that are not conducive to self-care. Instead of packing personal activities into the weekend (and expecting to also get some schoolwork completed), try to take time during the week for yourself. Make a plan to simplify your tasks and commit to some personal time each day.

Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD, Associate Executive Director of APAGS, also offers some important self-care advice4:

  1. Find stress-busting strategies that work for you. While other graduate students in your program attend CrossFit to blow off steam, you may find that you like playing pick-up basketball instead. Make it a priority to find out what's available at your college or in the community.
  2. Seek out healthy role models. Find mentors who have a work-life balance and talk to them about what strategies work for them.
  3. Recognize stress. Utilize the resources on campus if you find your stress to be adversely affecting your health. Visit the health center or campus counseling; many provide free or low-cost healthcare for graduate students.
  4. Be a role model. Help out others when you see them suffering from the imbalance. If you're a more advance graduate student, you're a role model for less advanced students and undergraduates.


  1. gradPSYCH magazine.
  2. Mentoring and self-care.
  3. Williams-Nickerson, C. Who cares? gradPSYCH, September, 2003.
  4. El-Ghoroury, N. H. Self-care is not just for emergencies. gradPSYCH, March, 2011.