Grad school. Feeling overwhelmed yet? Me too. But we CAN have fun (even as grad students). Here's how I do it.

So you’re in grad school. Feeling overwhelmed yet? Yeah? Me too. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in grad school!

As a creative writing masters student, I’m only allowed to take six hours because the workload (entirely reading and writing, about 20 hours a week if I’m actually spending the time I should spend on it…) is so high. I work 20 hours for work-study and I’m contractually not allowed to have a second job (but I do, which is 15-ish hours a week). Add it all together and I’ve got about a 60-hour work week. Ha.

And if you’re a mom, or a wife, or your second job is full-time, you’ve got an even bigger workload. It’s a lot different than undergrad, that’s for sure.

So how do us grad students make any time for ourselves? How do we possibly practice self-care? Have fun? Let loose?

Here are a few things I’ve tried to do to stay sane during this first year of grad school:

1. Make friends.

It sounds like a given, but that’s not always the case. There have been weeks when I’ve felt so overwhelmed by my workload that I locked myself away (particularly when I lived alone) and didn’t reach out to hang out. I just sat on my bed, staring at the pile of books and articles I had to read by the next week.

But secluding myself did nothing to make me feel better, be happy, or gain motivation. I started to realize that the more time I spent alone, trying to keep up with my school work, the less productive my time at home became. When I started spending weekends or even some weeknights out with friends or just watching movies at someone’s apartment, I had quite a bit more motivation to actually get to work when I was home or at the coffee shop.

2. Get out.

Speaking of coffee shops, I also tried to do a lot of my homework at my apartment, with my dog, in my bed. Some people are really good at getting themselves to the library or sitting at their table, or even getting work done in bed. I am not. Unless I’m doing an assignment that has very specific instructions and steps (which, as a creative writer, isn’t often the case) I can’t get anything done in bed.

Staying home all the time creates a breeding ground for depression, anxiety, and a loss of motivation. It can make you sleepy in the middle of the day. And that bed just looks so tempting.

When I started getting myself to go to the coffee shop (literally a 5-minute walk from my complex), I also started to get a lot more done. And it was more fun too! I could invite friends or just whole up by myself and occasionally make eye contact with the cute guy at the table over.

A fresh environment is extremely important if you want to have a good work-from-home ethic.

3. Get a pet.

I moved here during the summer and I didn’t know a single soul. As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, this was really hard for me. Loneliness was my enemy.

I told my mom months before I moved that I would get a puppy and I kept getting told by her and others that I shouldn’t. It was a big responsibility, financially and time-wise. But I did it anyway.

(My mom actually found the dog… I’m pretty sure when I broke down crying about being lonely that she realized I did need a dog or I’d never get out of bed.)

It is a responsibility. My dog can be a brat sometimes. But, on the days when I’m really struggling, my pup is there when I get home to snuggle with and love on. I’m never completely alone and trust me, dogs are far less drama than friends.

4. Make sacrifices.

Here’s a philosophy I’ve had since high school: sacrificing a few points on a homework assignment is worth a much-needed weekend with friends or relaxing.

Does this mean sacrifice points or effort on every assignment? No. Does it mean get drunk every weekend? Work hard, party harder? Of course not. Keeping up with your work, managing your time… these things are all very important. However, if you’re stressed and upset and depressed, it’s probably time you did a little something for the sake of your mental and physical health, whether that be go for a walk or go share a glass of wine (or two, or three) with friends.

The point here is balance. You can’t spend all your time working and expect to be happy.

You can’t spend all your time out with friends and expect to be successful in grad school.

Your schoolwork is important. Your jobs are important.

But, in the end, if you’re physically, mentally, or emotionally unhealthy, you won’t be able to succeed in work or school. You must have some fun!

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