Self-Care for Graduate Students


Debra Davenport, Faculty

Your graduate Communication program is designed to provide an enjoyable, stimulating, and richly rewarding experience. With that said, earning a high-quality degree requires a significant investment of time and effort. Added to a student’s family obligations and professional career, graduate studies can create stress and “un-wellness” if not properly managed.

Self-care is absolutely essential for graduate school success. The ability to listen to – and heed – the body’s signals can help prevent small stressors from becoming significant wellness concerns.

Adopting the following habits can help you feel your best and achieve peak productivity:

  1. Honor the body-mind-spirit connection. Take time for calming activities such as prayer, meditation, yoga, gentle stretching, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling. Get into the habit of practicing mindfulness, metacognition (thinking about how you’re thinking), and/or Byron Katie’s process, known as “The Work.”
  2. Feed your body what it needs. I could write a dissertation here on the topic of holistic nutrition and its benefits to both the body and mind. Speaking from my experience as a certified fitness trainer, I highly recommend organic, plant-based diets, supplemented with organic, high-quality protein and moderate amounts of whole, gluten-free grains. Water, too, is an absolute must; the brain requires proper hydration in order to function properly. Sugar should be eliminated from the diet to avoid brain fog, blood glucose spikes and crashes, and potential damage to the pancreas. Eating clean, nutritious foods will help to enhance your focus, performance, endurance, and overall well-being (and, very possibly, your grades).
  3. Get adequate rest. Insomnia is a common issue for students from junior high school through college. As work-life responsibilities increase, pre-sleep worries can trigger insomnia, disrupted sleep, or other sleep disorders. This study provides a wealth of information on sleep and academic performance. While you may think that “burning the midnight oil” to complete a paper is a necessary aspect of graduate studies, think again. It’s much better to properly plan your schedule so that you have ample time to work and rest.
  4. Invest in hands-on therapies. A variety of holistic and complementary modalities exist which can greatly enhance and maintain a healthy state of well-being. Hands-on and energy therapies, such as chiropractic, massage, reflexology, tapping, Quantum Touch®, Reiki, B.E.S.T., polarity therapy, and craniosacral therapy are just a few of the many popular and effective systems designed to foster gentle healing and overall health.
  5. Consider your environment. Are you working in a sea of clutter? Is unwanted noise distracting you from your studies? Is your study area designed for comfort, or do you find yourself doing most of your coursework at your local coffeehouse? It’s important to realize that your environment will directly impact the quality of your work. Make sure you have a comfortable, supportive (preferably ergonomically-designed) chair and that your computer (and mouse, if you use one) is positioned to alleviate neck, arm, wrist, and eye strain. Try to work in natural light as much as possible and avoid harsh, glaring artificial light. When the weather permits, open windows to let in fresh air; otherwise, use an air purifier to minimize toxins and allergens. Some students also find the use of salt lamps, live plants, aromatherapy, candles, soft music, sound machines, and even coloring books to be very effective at promoting a sense of calmness and well-being.

The bottom line is this: Your graduate studies should certainly be a top priority, but not at the expense of your health. By listening to your body and taking proactive steps to nurture yourself, you can enjoy greater energy, improved mood, and overall success.

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Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.