‘Tend to Your Spirit, Body, and Mind’: Ways We Students Can Keep Well in Difficult Times

March 7, 2022

Social Welfare Ph.D. candidate and Wellness Center Clinical Fellow Yasmine J. Awais shares four tips for managing stress and staying productive amid the pressures of grad school plus war abroad and a lingering pandemic.

Photo caption: Yasmine J. Awais (courtesy of Awais)
Photo caption: Yasmine J. Awais (courtesy of Awais)

By Yasmine J. Awais

Being a grad student is always a challenge — managing the pressures of school, work, and relationships. Add a pandemic plus war in Europe and other troubling issues including persistent racism, intolerance, and racially motivated violence at home and abroad (and for some of us, abroad is home), and the stress may seem impossible to manage. As a Social Welfare Ph.D. candidate and clinical fellow at the Graduate Center’s Wellness Center as well as a licensed creative arts therapist, I occupy a unique space of deeply understanding the struggle of coping with all of this.

The first thing to remember is stress is normal, even if current events are not. It is easy to wonder if pursuing higher education is worthwhile during times of crisis. Depending on your field of study, it can even feel frivolous during the low points. Yet doubting our purpose is part of the human condition. It makes us know we’re alive.

Here are four practical tips for managing stress for fellow students:

1. Reach out to others. These can be people within or outside of academia. You are not alone in your experience. The advantages of reaching out to cohort members and students in other programs or even departments or institutions is they “get” you. Reaching out to family, friends, and significant others will help keep you grounded and remind you that there is a world outside of the academy. Of course, a mental health professional also can provide a helpful outside perspective. Take advantage of the resources we offer at Student Counseling Services at the Wellness Center!

2. Set a routine. This is especially important if you have finished your coursework. Treating your research, writing, job search, and other academic tasks as important as scheduled events such as teaching makes you accountable. With a schedule, you’ll have the space to tell those around you when you can and cannot devote time to other things. Setting a schedule is not the same as telling yourself, I’m going to write all weekend. Setting large, ambiguous chunks of time to work may seem like a good strategy, but in the end you may end up procrastinating and feeling guilty about not spending the time doing what you said you would do. Schedule chunks of time, and remember to schedule time to eat, sleep, and take care of yourself. (See next two tips.)

3. Be creative. Make something out of nothing. This can be making art, growing something from a seed or a cutting, or cooking. Creating is empowering. For many of us, creating is part of our academic life (knowledge production, performing, and publishing are a few activities that come to mind), but creating for no audience and not tied to our academic selves is a true gift.

4. Tend to Your Spirit, Body, and Mind. Caring for only one, such as your mind because you are in school, can negatively affect your body and spirit. These can be independent activities, but they may overlap. When we get good rest, we may dream about our work or wake up with new clarity. When we pray, we understand that studies are just one aspect of life.

These tips are not magical. Maybe you’ve heard them before. I share them because sometimes we need to hear things said again and again or in a slightly different way.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing