I started this post back in March. At the time, I was determined to write about the strategies I used in order to magically fit everything into my daily schedule. As a high school teacher, a mom of an almost 4-year old and full time grad student, I would often hear comments such as, “I don’t know how you do it,” or “you are stronger than I am.” When I started hearing these comments repeated regularly, I began to contemplate how I actually did manage to make it work. What was the magical formula that yielded such success? As my presumed wisdom started to spill out across my post, reality decided to step in and change the game entirely.
Approximately midway through the spring semester, everything started to pile up, projects weren’t turning out the way I wanted them to, issues at work were beating me down, and I broke down. At the end of one of my classes, late on a Thursday night, my mind went blank. I could barely form sentences in my own head, my body went numb. I had reached the maximum capacity of my brain. In a fog of confusion, frustration, and embarrassment, I was approached by a professor who helped me navigate my way out of my distress and temporarily regain my composure. Unfortunately, the remainder of the semester proved to be just as difficult. I started to distance myself from my work and the anxiety increased. Through the support of my professors and my classmates, I managed to work through the end of the semester, but it was not the conclusion I envisioned back in January.
It is now June and I find myself writing the same blog I started in March, but now my perspective has changed. The spring semester has ended, the school year has come to a close and I have had an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances of the past few months. Personally, I have come to realize that the strategies that I wanted to share are just as relevant now as they were back in March.
- Utilize the T&T Lab. Most of the students within the T&T program own their own laptop or tablet and may not require the use of a computer. However, although the lab provides computer technology for the students to utilize, the lab is about more than computer access. The lab (located in Colbourn Hall Room 207C) provides an opportunity to share experiences with other students, collaborate and discuss ideas, and even a quiet place to work and think. By giving yourself an opportunity to interact with the other members of your cohort, you are developing positive working relationships, and in some cases close friendships, with your colleagues.
- Go to office hours when you can. As simple as this suggestion sounds, it can be one of the hardest tasks to accomplish for two reasons. First and foremost, the available hours do not always occur in the evenings after your work day has ended. Fortunately, the majority of the professors will keep office hours before class in order to help make the available times more manageable. If this option still does not fit into your schedule, most professors will also be willing to either set up a Skype session or simply make an appointment that will meet your needs. Making an appointment to meet with my professors is one of the only ways I managed to work through the fog of the semester. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
- Do not be afraid to take a day off. Two of the most difficult things to overcome when you are employed full time outside of UCF are the feeling of missing out or feeling overwhelmed. As a program, we are presented with a multitude of opportunities to interact with guest speakers, participate in colloquiums, or present our research at a variety of forums on campus. However, the majority of these events occur in the late mornings and into the early afternoons. If there in an event you would like to attend, plan accordingly. You will not regret taking the time to participate in these experiences. This time off also includes mental breaks. When you feel overwhelmed, take a day to regain your composure. Pushing through the anxiety and stress can lead to breakdowns that are more detrimental to your mental and physical health than just taking a day to regain your focus.
- Discuss your ideas with others, even if they are not associated with the T&T program. In a field that embraces a broad spectrum of interests and ideas, it can be difficult to find someone who has the exact same interests. However, I have discovered that forcing myself to explain my thoughts and defend my ideas can be one of the most enlightening opportunities. Simply hearing your thoughts being spoken aloud can help to clarify confusion within an argument that may not have been previously apparent.
- Breakdowns are normal. Let them happen. As a grad student, you will experience a variety of pressures to your mental, emotional, and potentially even your physical state. The good news is that it is normal. Each one of us is only one person. Fighting or ignoring anxiety and stress can make the situation more detrimental. Fortunately, if we continue to support one another and take care of ourselves, each breakdown can be managed and we can emerge stronger and more focused as we progress through each upcoming challenge.
***A note from the editor.
UCF provides great resources for students facing similar stressors. If you need additional support, be sure to explore the campus services below for tactics to maintain mental and physical health as a busy student: