How To Manage Stress While You’re Working on Your Graduate Degree

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Updated: November 9, 2023, Reading time: 10 minutes

Manage Stress While You're Working on Your Graduate Degree - featured image

Research published by the National Library of Medicine confirms the high levels of stress among students pursuing graduate studies, underscoring that stress and exhaustion are significantly reduced with the right amount of sleep.

The data also revealed grad students experience higher levels of emotional or stress-related issues than undergraduate students and the general population.

Additional Resources:

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A Guide to Maintaining Your Mental Health in Graduate School

The Best Doctor of Behavioral Health (DBH) Degrees

Why Graduate Students Should Keep Stress At Bay

Pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree and fulfilling other responsibilities, such as work and family life, can be one of the most exhausting times in a person’s life. Grad school involves an enormous amount of reading, research, and coursework necessary to complete a degree. 

Because of their desire to achieve academically and professionally, graduate studies can become quite overwhelming and lead to a lot of stress!

Here are a few reasons why you need to manage stress right away.

Stress can make controlling your emotions difficult.

Stress can make controlling your emotions difficult. - Image

It’s a known fact that people who experience stress tend to lose their cool. However, a study revealed that even mild levels of stress can affect a person’s ability to control their emotions. 

The study put participants under mild stress by asking them to dunk their hands in icy water and look at pictures of spiders or snakes afterward. The participants were not able to easily calm themselves, proving that even mild stress can make it difficult for an individual to control anxiety and fear. 

It can increase the risk of certain diseases.

Some people may be more prone to certain illnesses, which can be increased by chronic stress. In fact, stress has been linked to diseases like lung disease, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and fatal accidents. 

Studies have shown that stress makes a host of health problems more complicated. What’s more, it has been discovered that chronic stress will not only exacerbate certain illnesses but actually cause them, as well. Some of the most common diseases that stress influences include type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, certain types of disability, and even premature death. 

Stress can cause individuals to overeat, drink, smoke, and develop unhealthy habits, such as exercising and sleeping less, making it more obvious that this mental health problem can have debilitating consequences on our health. 

Stress releases cortisol, whose primary function is to turn off inflammation. Chronic stress can produce high cortisol levels, causing the cells to become desensitized to the hormone. Cortisol can cause more inflammation, eventually damaging the brain cells and blood vessels. 

It can cause weight gain.

Stress can increase food cravings that are full of fat, sugar, and starch. You may want to binge on sugary food and drinks, such as chocolate bars, ice cream, and soda, to help you “get through” a day in graduate school or at the office.

In a study involving women, those who experienced stressful events in the last 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories after consuming fast food meals than those who ate a similar meal but were not exposed to any stressors. While 104 calories may not be significant, it can add up to 11 extra pounds in a year. To top it all off, stress response can increase insulin levels and reduce fat oxidation, promoting fat storage. 

It can slow down healing.

Excessive cortisol levels can hamper healing and lower a vaccine’s effectiveness. As a result, it can take longer for illnesses or wounds to heal. For graduate students who are constantly exposed to a lot of stress, this can be especially disruptive. It can affect their attendance and performance in school since they may be sick more than those who are not constantly stressed out. 

It can affect the quality of sleep.

Since graduate students often need to juggle their time between school, work, and life, most of them find it difficult to have a good quality of sleep. With stress, sleep deficits can become worse, making it harder for graduate students to sleep soundly at night. 

Not being able to sleep better at night can lead to sleep deprivation which can impair emotional control and memory. As a result, those who experience sleep deficits may then find it harder to handle stress. This is because higher cortisol levels can lead to wakefulness at night and cause our brains to keep reminding us of our problems. 

It can cause heart disease.

The American Heart Association emphasizes that chronic stress can affect our overall well-being. Although stress is the body’s natural response that helps boost a person’s performance, too much stress can have adverse effects on the body. 

Graduate students may experience long-term stress because they need to divide their time effectively to be able to fulfill all their responsibilities. This can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, rumination, or wakefulness at night. If this goes on for a long time, it can result in heart disease because stress can cause high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

It can cause ulcers, gastritis, and other stomach problems.

It can cause ulcers, gastritis, and other stomach problems. - Image

Scientists have always attributed stomach problems to stress. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, two Australian researchers, discovered the negative curved bacillus Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori as the bacteria that cause chronic superficial gastritis, gastric adenocarcinoma, and peptic ulcer disease. 

While not only people who have stomach problems are infected with this bacteria, chronic stress can cause the H. pylori bacteria to thrive. Aside from that, stress affects the balance of bacteria in the gut, causing harmful ones to cause more damage. 

It can intensify back, neck, and other pains.

Graduate students spend a lot of their time reading and researching hunched over their computer screens. It can result in a lack of physical activity and psychological stress. While these may not cause spinal stenosis, scoliosis, or disk tears, stress can intensify its severity and duration. For this reason, musculoskeletal pain is particularly high among graduate students.

It can affect relationships.

Too much stress and pressure can affect your mood, body weight, sexual desire, and testosterone levels. Eventually, it can lead to impotence, which can cause strain in your relationship. 

Aside from that, high levels of stress can make you irritable. It can result in misunderstandings with your peers, family, and loved ones, which can cause more tension and problems in the long run. 

Managing Stress While in Graduate School

In a survey by the American College Health Association, an estimated 77% of graduate students have experienced high levels of stress in 2021. While undergraduate students may experience stress, those in graduate school face a distinctive set of pressures on a daily basis.

Here are a few coping strategies to combat stress while in graduate school.

Make “you” a priority.

Graduate students may not always have the luxury of time to relax and recharge, which is the main cause of stress. However, it’s still important for you to make yourself a priority. This includes getting enough sleep every night, eating three full meals every day, and exercising or keeping yourself active at least three times a week. 

You need to be aware that you must take some time to take care of yourself. You need to learn how to be creative in supporting yourself during stressful times. When you take better care of yourself, you start to feel good about yourself, too. 

For one, make it a point to steal a few minutes to take a breather every day. Be sure to do something that gets your mind off your classes to ensure work-life balance. 

Keep in mind that to lower stress levels, you also need to sleep longer, eat healthy food, and keep yourself active to release the tension you experience when faced with challenges. Sleep, exercise, and proper diet are the top three things that help you manage stress better because then you will be less likely to be overwhelmed when you are healthy and feel good about yourself. 

Manage your time properly.

Graduate school projects can take a lot of your time, which can cause you to put some of your work off until the last minute. To avoid being stressed by all your deadlines, you need to break down your projects into doable portions. Some people work on the more complicated firsts to get them out of the way. Others want to get a head start by doing the simpler tasks so they can have more time to do the more difficult ones. 

By managing your time properly, you will be less likely to get stressed, and more importantly, you can be sure to beat all your deadlines. 

Celebrate small wins.

Give yourself some credit every time you accomplish something. Being able to turn a project in on time or before the deadline is already an achievement on its own. 

It helps you to feel good about your accomplishment every time you accomplish something. It’s an excellent way to boost your endorphins because it allows you to take a break from grad school. 

Set realistic goals.

Set realistic goals. - Image

While it’s important to look at the bigger picture, it’s equally crucial that you set achievable goals, like sleeping earlier so you can wake up earlier, too, and get things done as soon as possible. 

If you’re set on more realistic goals, you can also manage your expectations properly. That way, you won’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t come out the way you planned it to. 

Know what you can and cannot control.

There are things that you can control, and there are those that you cannot. To avoid a stressful situation, you need to determine whether it’s something that you can influence to get your desired outcome or not. By doing so, you will also be able to avoid wasting energy on things that you may not even want in the long run. 

Seek support.

Sometimes, it can be embarrassing to ask for help from other people. While it can be fulfilling to accomplish a project all on your own, it doesn’t hurt to ask for assistance from others, especially if things start to become overwhelming in grad school. 

Tap into your professors, peers, and advisors to seek advice or even emotional support. Seeking assistance is crucial in reaching your goals. You will be surprised at how much you can achieve by simply leaning on the people in your circle for help. 

Find out what you need to change.

Think about the decisions you have made in the past that have affected your mental health. To avoid repeating them, make sure you know what you need to change about your mindset, attitude, and decision-making. These reflections will bring about sustainable changes that will help you finish graduate school with as little hitch as possible.

Seek professional counseling.

If you notice adverse changes in your behavior, mood, school performance, and sleeping patterns, you need to schedule professional counseling to get the mental health support you need. 

Sometimes, juggling your time between all your responsibilities can take a toll on your overall well-being. If you need to, see a counselor to help you sort things out and have a clearer mind to accomplish what you need to accomplish. 

Manage Stress While You're Working on Your Graduate Degree - fact

To sum it all up, remember these three things when managing stress as a graduate student:

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