Student Thoughts: Managing Stress

by Laura Crockett
Scribbles & Wanderlust

For as long as I can remember, my schedule was packed. From music lessons to rehearsals, school and after school activities, honors societies and work, I was constantly on the go. Somehow, some way, I managed my stress just fine in those days.

But graduate school is a whole different ball game. The classes are fun and interesting, so the workload doesn’t feel like a burden. Working 40+ hours per week can be exhausting, but if you’re like me and you love your job, you don’t mind the hours. I blog for Quirk Books whenever the idea actually makes it to a word document and is sent to their editors. And this semester, because I’m always curious about writers and their word babies, I’ve edited and looked over two manuscripts for our MFA students.

The thing is, I love doing all these things. I love learning, I love working, and I love editing. So why does graduate school feel so much more stressful than any other time of my life? Well, I don’t have the answer to that, but I can certainly help you figure out how to manage it!

We all need some prescribed ice cubes.

We all need some prescribed ice cubes.

Remember: You’re Not Invincible
Everyone has their limitations. Once you start realizing you’re losing sleep, not eating properly, and on the verge of some sort of mental breakdown, it’s time to cut back on things in your life. What’s absolutely mandatory? What can be made more flexible? What can wait till the winter holidays?

Find a Way to Express Your Stress
Whether that’s wailing into your pillow, all woe-is-me and making your neighbor very concerned, or calling up your parents and listening to their voices, or even writing it all down in a journal, notebook, or on a sheet of paper — vent your stress. Talk to someone. You don’t necessarily need them to solve your problems. What you need is a way to get all those thoughts out of your head and in the open. You’ll feel lighter, liberated, once you’ve expressed yourself.

Make a Happy List
This sounds so cheesy, but it’s immensely comforting. Create a list of things that make you happy, things that aren’t related to school or work. Finger painting, rolling down a hill of leaves, a nice hot meal at a restaurant, watching a movie with a friend, you name it! Write it down — then go out and make it happen. You deserve that mental break.

Self-Care Days Are Important
A friend of mine is getting her PhD and she told me last year that I must schedule a day of the week for self-care. “You’ll go crazy without that one day,” she said. Last year I made sure I had everything done by that one day of the week I didn’t have to work or go to class. And on that day, I was reading for fun, chowing down on nachos and popcorn and cookies, watching BBC dramas with friends, catching up on TV shows. I forgot to do that this semester, and immediately felt the effects. It’s not a happy place, folks. Schedule that day of rest, that day of fun. You’ll feel so much better for it!

Learn to Say No
You’re brilliant, intelligent, hard-working, and wonderful — everyone can see that, everyone admires that. So of course, they think you’re invincible (I repeat: you’re not) and pile on more favors. “Could you edit this? You’re so great at it!” “I love your design — could you help me with mine?” “My manuscript needs some development. Could you look at it?” You want to help, you really do, and you’re interested in these tasks — but you’re overwhelmed. Say no. It’s kind of like turning down a date: It may break your heart at first, and you may feel really guilty initially, but say it anyway. Tell the person you’d love to but can’t, you’re already swamped with other things. They’ll understand. The world won’t end. One day you may find time to help them and maybe they’ll return the favor — but that day is not today.

How do you handle stress? Any tips and tricks you’ve learned over the years?