by Sydney Glass
Last November, I was fortunate to attend a self-care workshop led by the amazing Dr. Al Fuertes, an Associate Professor in the School of Integrative Studies and a University Life Faculty Fellow. While this workshop was specifically for graduate student staff in University Life, I can recognize its benefits for all graduate and professional students at Mason.
Oftentimes, as graduate students, we feel the need to continue as if everything is fine, or that taking time to destress will take away from time that we could spend completing another assignment. In actuality, not being aware and recognizing that you need and deserve a break could negatively influence both your health and academic studies. Dr. Fuertes says that being stressed over small periods is fine and normal. However, experiencing stress for at least thirty consecutive days can be considered trauma. Imagine what that means for many of us in grad school who have been in what seems like a perpetual state of stress! Since that workshop, I have tried to make small changes in the way I manage stressful situations and always try to take some time for myself. In this post, I want to highlight a few ways that you can manage stressors in your life and reduce your stress levels.
A Stress Diary: I know what you are thinking, “there is a diary for everything,” and it is true. However, it is also true that writing things down can help you better manage and prioritize your responsibilities. With a stress diary, you are encouraged to describe a stressful event when it happens and how the experience makes you feel. This is important as it allows you to figure out what causes you the most stress, when you feel most overwhelmed, and how stress manifests itself, whether physical or emotional. Through this, you become more aware of your stress levels, can develop a plan to reduce them, and are more equipped to deal with similar situations in the future.[i]
Talking: If you are not interested in writing about your stress, try talking about it! I really liked this about Dr. Fuertes’ workshop as it allowed me to discuss certain issues with my peers. Although we were not in the same discipline or program, we could all relate to the graduate school experience. One article describes stress as a “sack of rocks” that gets lighter when you talk about it with someone else.[ii] I am not saying that this works all the time or is an easy fix, but it can definitely make you feel less alone and validate how you are feeling.
Cognitive Restructuring: To put it simply, cognitive restructuring is the process of changing the way we think and adopting a more positive mindset. In graduate school, and life in general, we will experience a number of stressful situations, which can negatively influence our mood and overall performance. It is important not to dwell on the negative aspects or worry about things that we cannot change too long, as it only increases our stress. Instead, try to think about the situation objectively, as it will allow you to consider both the pros and cons of it. Once you have a more balanced view, you can work to change negative statements like “I’m not good at this” to “I simply need to practice more.” Additionally, one of the biggest recommendations that I have been working on is “living in the present.” A major stressor is that we often try to tackle all of our problems simultaneously, but that usually creates more stress and we accomplish very little. Thus, the next time everything seems to be piling up, take time to think through and work on solutions for one problem at a time.[iii]
If you are interested in learning more techniques to manage stress and want to build relationships with others in the Mason community, check out the Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing's Mindful Mason Moments. It is on my to-do list! I hope that you will find these tips useful, and they will allow you to not only manage your stress levels but also fit moments of self-care into your busy schedules. Until next time!
To learn more about Dr. Fuertes’ work and research interests, visit his faculty page here.
[i] “Stress Diaries,” Mind Tools, n.d., https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_01.htm
[ii] Fawne Hansen, “Talking about Your Stress: A Simple Way to Put It in Perspective,” the Adrenal Fatigue Solution, last modified May 29, 2015, https://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/talking-about-your-stress/
[iii] Elizabeth Scott, “Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief,” Verywell Mind, last modified August 8, 2019, https://www.verywellmind.com/cognitive-restructuring-for-stress-relief-3144919
This blog post has been updated to reflect updated information and web addresses.
Edited by Nikita Thadani, 2/1/2022