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How I do it: Keeping My Sanity

As I am sure you can guess, life as a full-time PhD student is stressful! The first couple years of grad school are particularly difficult. It almost feels like they are trying to break you down–more work than you could possibly complete combined with constant criticism! I guess that’s why fifty percent of PhD students never finish!

If you have thick skin and can power through, you emerge transformed (cheesy, I know, but true). One day you wake up and feel like you just might know what you are doing. The doubt doesn’t really subside, just kind of fades, but as you slowly begin to master reading, writing, and teaching you begin to feel like a professional academic.

Keeping your sanity through all of this is tricky. I am sure many of you can relate, college in general can be stressful, and your first years in the workforce can be just as crazy.

For me, the following are essential for keeping my sanity (and surviving stressful situations)!

I have a bit of a coffee habit, and I LOVE Dunkin Donuts coffee. It is seriously the highlight of my day. Besides being caffeinated (which, obviously is a necessity), I really enjoy the taste. For me having a cup of coffee is like taking a little break to treat myself with something delicious.
I can’t stress the importance of exercise enough! For some reason when students (at any level) get stressed about school, exercise is the first thing to go–hence the freshman 15. You also see this on the graduate level. With so much work to do all the time, people think that they have no time to exercise. Ironically, I have found I am a better and more efficient student when I exercise. A healthy lifestyle, a clear mind, and a good night’s sleep, all of which exercise causes, makes me a better reader and thinker. In less time I can produce better work!
Down Time
Too many students think more time is all they need. An all-nighter is all it takes to complete that paper or ace that test. Again, this is counter productive. My most insightful thoughts happen when I put my paper or book aside and walk away for a bit. This is the biggest mistake new grad students make. You need equal time to digest and analyze what you have read or what you want to write. Trust me, if you have taken the time to think about a book or idea, you will be able to write that paper in half the time because you will have something meaningful to say (rather than the usual filler).
A Creative Outlet
For me, my creative outlet is my blog. It allows me to explore the other passions I have. Again, I find that I am happier, and thus more productive, if I have an outlet for my creativity.
Remember my snarky retort to why history matters? For me humor is the key to managing my stress and frustrations! I find that when I am overworked humor always gets me through. For example the other day I was marathon grading papers and I was frustrated because I was running out of time and felt like the students were being lazy (and grading 50 essays on the same topic is so monotonous!). Just when I had hit a wall of frustration my officemate (and best friend) made a joke about how funny it would be to grade in hashtags. Suddenly the jokes started flying and several other grad students joined us as we created our hashtag grading scale.

Joking around for a bit was all I needed to feel reinvigorated and not take my frustration out on the papers I was grading.
What do you do to keep your insanity?