Physical and Mental Health in Higher Education

I am going to talk about something that most graduate students and faculty members shy away from: health in graduate school. Staying both physically AND mentally healthy is imperative to our success both in graduate school and in life. And I stress the “and” above because it is not an “either/or” situation. In my opinion and in my experience, I am neither as happy nor as productive as I could be if I am not BOTH physically and mentally healthy.

But, it can be challenging to put in the effort to remain healthy. It is so easy to stop exercising because there is not enough time in the day. It is so easy to not cook dinner and eat fast food every day because who has time for cooking? It is so easy to not sleep enough, not socialize enough, not relax enough – all of which drastically affect our mental well-being. In other ways, don’t be this person (see below).

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When I was working on my Masters degree (not here), I struggled with staying physically and mentally healthy. A lot of that pertained to that I was unhappy in my program and had things going on in my life that were challenging. We all experience difficult situations in life, and that is okay. It is okay to struggle a little. But, it’s imperative that we pick ourselves up off the floor and start taking care of ourselves. I had to learn how to balance my work and the rest of my life. People will push you as far as they can to get the most out of you and to help you reach your potential. But, we have to know our own limits and know that having limits is okay.

The hardest part of staying healthy, for me at least, is that it means I sometimes have to say “no” or “I need more time” to my supervisors. I don’t like not doing exactly what they want, and I definitely don’t like asking for anything from them. But I have learned that unless you stand up for yourself and put your health first, nobody else will. Fortunately, I can now say that I have a much better grasp on what I need to do to please both my supervisors and myself. And I am so much happier now than I was.

So, if anyone out there feels overwhelmed, stressed, burnt-out, know that “I hear ya” and know that you are not alone. I encourage everyone, regardless of how you feel about graduate school, to stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible. There are great resources both on campus and off to help us with this. Use these services. Go for a walk. Cook something you enjoy. I promise you, you will feel better. Bottom line, take care of yourself – your health and happiness should not suffer because of your work. We have one life to live (cliché, I know). So, make the most out of it – professionally and personally.

3 Replies to “Physical and Mental Health in Higher Education”

  1. I appreciate your comments on physical and mental health. In my first year of graduate school I had a difficult time of balancing my academics and work-life while still attempting to practice self-care. I left a full-time job and benefits to come back to school so failure was not an option. However, I have also had to sacrifice my social life. Graduate school is not a 9-5 job and I had a lot of sleepless nights which led to an increase in my overall stress. It took me until the end of my first year to find a balance and realize how much my own well-being mattered. Unfortunately, my supervisors are not as understanding when I stop responding to emails after 5pm or on the weekends. I have resided myself to focus on myself, rather than working past my limit.

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