Managing the Inevitable Graduate School Stress

Hello fellow Graduate students! Look at this article to help with those stressful times. Gabe D.

Managing the Inevitable Graduate School Stress

There are periods in life that are naturally more stressful than others. Graduate school will likely be one of these times.

Stay organized. For some, this will mean keeping a detailed calendar of meetings, assignment deadlines and events. For others, a well-crafted to-do list will be in order. Even if you find you work best under some form of “organized chaos,” you will want to try to stay more on top of things than usual.

Always stay one step ahead of your deadlines. Most students will say they were most stressed when a due date loomed right before them. The best way to combat the sometimes-overwhelming feelings of anxiety about a deadline is to get your work done early. Don’t procrastinate. If an assignment or project is late, your graduate school professors won’t buy your excuses.

Instead, develop a schedule that allows you to meet deadlines and test dates with enough time to create balance in your life (By the way, that’s the key to happiness in graduate school: balance). Don’t put off studying for so long that you have to cram because you won’t remember the material. And this isn’t subject matter you can blow off. Nearly all of your graduate studies are directly related to your career, so you need to know your coursework.

One way to develop an effective schedule is to prioritize. You will be juggling short and long-term deadlines, so assignments will take varying degrees of precedence. You may want to consider the weight of the grade of a particular test or the general importance of an assignment to help you prioritize your schedule in a pinch.

Many students report that another source of stress comes from financial-related pressures. Between the program and living costs, graduate school can be expensive. These financial pressures can interfere with your classroom studies, so it’s important that you determine ahead of time how you will fund grad school and whether you will need a part-time job to pay for living expenses and extra-curricular activities.

Getting back to balance, make sure you’re eating, sleeping and exercising regularly while in graduate school. It’s easy to fall off a regular routine that includes seven to eight hours of sleep and three square meals. But it’s important not to compromise these essentials for a balanced life. If you have ever given up a healthy diet or regular sleep schedule, you know how much better you feel when you get back on track.

Just about every college and university has a gymnasium or workout center available to students. Try to use yours at least three times per week. Your body is technically a vehicle for your mind; you don’t want your machine breaking down because you aren’t keeping up on maintenance. Exercise in graduate school doesn’t have to be overly time consuming or boring, either. Consider the athletic center at the University of California, Irvine, where students can hang from a rock wall or work out in the same space as Kobe Bryant. Exercise is a natural stress buster, too. Besides the physical release of pent up anxiety, think about how mentally therapeutic it might be to beat up on a punching bag for ten minutes.

On a more serious note, academic pressure can lead to a number of symptoms, some of which are mild. Others, though, can be severe. Know your body, your mind and your limits. It’s important that you be aware of the warning signs of emotional exhaustion.

Burnout usually doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s something that builds over time. The students who pursue graduate degrees—especially in rigorous programs—tend to be high achievers. These students can be susceptible to graduate school burnout, which can begin with infrequent negative thoughts about oneself, the program, or general academic disappointments. It occurs when a student has put forth grinding effort toward a goal that may be unrealistic given time, program or personal constraints.

One red flag indicating burnout is fatigue. Not regular tiredness, but chronic fatigue. Another is a loss in things that once interested you or more irritability or anger than usual. You may find you do not cope well when asked to do another task, however minor, on top of your workload. You may feel trapped by your work, or attacked by those asking more of you. Or, you might feel helpless, like there’s no way you will ever dig out from under the mountain of papers, tests and deadlines. Have you lost or gained more than 20 pounds? Are you generally finding it difficult to sleep? Are you getting sick more often? Has your heart ever felt like it was racing? Have you abused alcohol or drugs with regularity? Do you have unusual aches and pains? These are all signs of burnout.

You are your top priority in graduate school. If you start to feel stress mounting, talk to a professor. Sometimes, just meeting for coffee after class and sharing your feelings, goals and concerns with someone you trust is enough to alleviate some of the stress. But, if you notice signs of extreme stress, emotional exhaustion, or burnout, you may want to make an appointment with your university’s mental health services department. It is important to recognize and acknowledge dangerous levels of stress and seek help for managing them. Mental health professionals might suggest a weekend off or help you create a schedule that will lift some of the pressure.

Avoid burnout by finding some way to relax every day, even if it’s for 15 minutes at the start and end of your day. You need some time for yourself. Develop a routine that you can look forward to, like decaffeinated tea before bed, or a half hour of your favorite reading material. Stress can creep into your sleep, so you need to fall asleep with a clear mind.


About utagtateaching

This blog is dedicated to providing resources to the Graduate Teaching Assistants in the UTA MFA program pertaining to teaching strategies, methods, and materials. We aim to start a public discussion that serves to enhance the classroom experience for both teacher and student.


  1. Michelle Pennington


    Experiencing all of this now. I relaxed more than i should have this weekend to try to catch up on sleep. Seemed to work for now…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christine Heimerman

    Managing stress is an ongoing mental battle, but planning and working ahead does alleviate some of the stress for me.


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