Self-care as a Graduate Student

“Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly”-unknown.

Graduate school is a unique journey. It can provide us with an opportunity to pursue our passions and goals. It can also teach us the value of time in a different way. With so many competing demands constantly emerging, prioritizing becomes a skill that can help us make it through this academic and professional journey. Our profession teaches us that self-care should become an important priority. After all, as we often hear, it is rather difficult to “pour out of an empty cup”. It could be said that self-care is an important competence in our profession. Principle II.12, Responsible Caring, in the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists emphasizes the ethical responsibility of engaging proactively in self-care activities. Yet, truly understanding and developing a practice of self-care seems to be an individual process in graduate school. A process that can be key in preventing burnout, but one that is not always easy to engage in. If you ever feel as though it is difficult to find a balance throughout grad school, you are not alone. This is hard. You are here. You are doing your best. This academic journey can feel like a constant reminder of the next thing that needs to be achieved. I just want to take a second to acknowledge you and all the great work that has gotten you this far. I believe that pausing to acknowledge what we have been doing well can be an important part of self-care.

The first time I heard about self-care, I remember hearing the word “tea” and feeling confused as to what something as simple as tea had to do with self-care. It took me a while to understand that it is not necessarily about the “tea” itself. It is about the mindfulness and intentionality that I can engage in as I enjoy a warm cup of my favorite tea. Now, I take more time to carefully observe the turquoise color of my favorite cup, as well as its shape and texture. I close my eyes and take in the smell of my tea. I feel the warmth in my body as I savor it. Engaging in mindfulness has greatly facilitated a process of self-care in my life. To me, self-care is also about compassionate discipline sometimes. To ensure that I make time for exercise and quality sleep. To fully understand what self-care means, it helps to build our own unique relationship with this seemingly simple, yet complex and vital construct. After all, it is the fuel that keeps us going and the energy that can help us pursue our dreams and passions while at the same time prioritizing ourselves and our wellbeing.

In the process of continuing to build and strengthen our relationship with self-care, I hope that we can also infuse this process with self-compassion, patience, and abundant kindness for ourselves and each other. I know that at least for myself, this is a skill that I am still growing, and practicing self-compassion along the way has become an important part of this work. Below, we share some of the ways that we have been practicing the skill of self-care in our lives. We invite you to reflect on your relationship with self-care as well, and if you feel like sharing some of the ways that you practice this skill, we would love to hear from you!

By: Alejandra Botia – CPSA Team

Self-care strategies from the CPSA Team

Chris

  1. Re-watching my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some of my top hits, always: “The Inner Light” (Season 5, Episode 25); “I, Borg” (Season 5, Episode 23); “All Good Things …” (Season 7; Episode 25 & 26).
  2. Reading poetry. When I want to de-stress any poetry book by Mary Oliver always helps (Oliver’s book Evidence is the one I’ve been going back to lately).
  3. Meditation and the Alexander Technique. Meditation is a practice I started during my MA practicum and I aspire to do it daily. The Alexander Technique (see the movie The King’s Speech for a pop culture intro) is something I learned way back when I was in theatre school, so it is a meaningful self-care practice on multiple levels for me.
  4. Bonus: Laughter is a big part of my self-care, and this video always gets me. For lovers of the actor Jonathan Frakes (Riker on Star Trek; anyone else remembers Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?). Laugh out loud every single time. 

Syler

Time is precious for many grad students when there is such an emphasis on productivity and achievement. It’s hard to find the time, so here’s a list of my self-care based on how much time I can spare that help both my mood and my productivity.

  1. If I only have a few moments to spare, quick grounding techniques can keep me from becoming overwhelmed. My go-to is to focus on breathing as slowly as possible and allowing my weight to sink into my chair. I would recommend Seeking Safety by Lisa Nahavits for more grounding ideas. 
  2. If I have more time, I prioritize exercise, especially if it can be outdoors. Between zoom meetings, I have been doing calisthenics in my room or going for a quick walk (even a 5 min stroll around my block). These small breaks of movement keep me from getting too restless and are a great shift from cognitively focused tasks. The added dopamine spike with exercise and completing a “to-do task” doesn’t hurt either.
  3. If I can squeeze 30 minutes or more out of my schedule, then I want to be engaging in creative tasks. Music and D&D are two long-standing passions of mine that allow me to get excited about creating in a way that very few assignments ever have. These activities also allow me to experience setting and accomplishing goals without the added pressure of evaluation and deadlines. 
  4. Bonus: SLEEP. Still having to remind myself (or have my body remind more aggressively) that I need sleep. And more sleep than “enough to function”. I am more productive and grounded if I am well rested and my work is more enjoyable too. This takes the most time on my list but it has the most noticeable effects on my mood and productivity. 

Katie

  1. I make a point of scheduling in a fun class (e.g., a dance class) at least once a week. Signing up for a class helps ensure I’ll follow-through. I’m too quick to say that I don’t have time for something but when I sign up for it, I make time for it. 
  2. Going outside! I’m a homebody who would be happy as a clam remaining indoors most of the time. Going for a walk and mindfully engaging with the environment is a surefire way for me to feel a little more restored. (Tip: Birding is a fun and free activity to engage in on your walks – the Merlin Bird ID app is a great resource)
  3. Five minutes of mindfulness in the morning, before bed, and as-needed. The DBT skills manual has a long list of mindfulness activities that I continuously draw on. I don’t use any apps but that’s another great resource. 

Sarah

  1. I like to do something smaller that I can achieve within 30 minutes and then acknowledge my success (i.e., doing the dishes, make a meal, do a crossword or puzzle). Being a graduate student/researcher means that I’m always working towards big goals and I quickly forget how nice it feels to achieve something (frankly- anything!). 
  2. I found a group of clinicians to share the consultation role. I can’t imagine being a clinician without having others to bounce ideas off of or to help me process how I’m feeling. Knowing I can talk to them on a tough day instantly makes me feel safer and more capable. 
  3. My favourite Kristen Neff exercise “Soften, Soothe, Allow” for those days when my sessions feel extra heavy. 

Alejandra

 1. Creating mindful practices that bring me a feeling of calm and joy. Lately, I have been lighting a candle, making my favorite tea, and putting on music that speaks to me in that moment. I let the rest unfold! Sometimes I end up just mindfully noticing the flame of the candle, journaling, or just being.
2. As graduate students, it can be challenging not to have high expectations of ourselves all the time. A self-care strategy that I am trying to implement is reminding myself that “good enough” or “Good. It is done” is okay too. This looks like prioritizing what I can get done with the time that I have and slowly letting go of the idea that every single project/assignment/assigned reading has to get done as perfectly as possible. I am asking myself more questions, such as “does this assignment/project align with my own goals and values?” “How does this project contribute to my life positively?” “Who am I doing this for?”
3. Moving my body in a way that resonates with me that day. Sometimes that looks like going for a run, taking a dance class, or going for a short walk.

Thank you for reading! We would love to hear from you and your self-care strategies as well. Feel free to reply on this page, or email us at cpsaubc@gmail.com.

 References

Canadian Psychological Association. (2017a). Canadian code of ethics for psychologists (4th ed.). Retrieved from https://cpa.ca/aboutcpa/committees/ethics/codeofethics/

Photo Credit: Hello Revival on Unsplash

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