Feeling Overwhelmed in Grad School? Mindfulness May Be the Answer!

By: Carly Graverson

Pink azalea hedges with a sunrise behind them.

Disclaimer: This blog is general information and should not be taken as medical advice. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health crisis, please get in touch with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988. For more information regarding Rice Wellbeing and Counseling, please visit their website at https://wellbeing.rice.edu/ 

Attending graduate school is a rewarding experience, but it can sometimes be overwhelming between academic and personal pursuits. However, it is important as graduate students to find ways to maintain our mental and emotional well-being. One great and simple option to pursue is mindfulness. The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. Mindfulness can help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by observing their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them.” Below, I will make an argument on why mindfulness can be helpful to you in your graduate school journey.
Finding Serenity in the Present
In the hustle of grad school demands, the ability to immerse oneself fully in the present moment becomes a sanctuary. To integrate mindfulness, allocate dedicated time for focused work, resist multitasking, and prioritize meditation. For instance, immerse yourself entirely in the process during experiments, noticing each detail. This focused attention can elevate both your work quality and overall well-being. Consider using the Pomodoro Technique to avoid multitasking–it’s a straightforward but helpful tool! If you want to step outside of your work, find a place on campus to feel grounded in nature. Take a moment to close your eyes, notice the weather, and feel the sunshine on your face. I’ve even been known to take off my shoes and stand with my feet planted in a patch of grass. Do whatever works for you!

Confronting Stress and Anxiety
Graduate studies often accompany heightened stress and anxiety levels. Mindfulness emerges as an antidote. Incorporate deep breathing exercises and meditation techniques into your routine to effectively manage stress. For example, invest a few minutes in deep breathing and visualization before a major presentation. This practice can effectively soothe nerves and enhance performance. Many great guided meditation apps are available, or even check out YouTube for a quick 5-minute meditation–check out this link for one of my favorites.
Building Resilience for Setbacks
Resilience is a graduate student's armor against setbacks, and mindfulness proves instrumental for its development. Practice self-compassion by acknowledging challenges without self-criticism, turning setbacks into opportunities for growth. For instance, when facing a failed experiment, view it as a chance to refine methods and extract new insights, fostering resilience in the face of adversity. Practice mindfulness by not judging your emotional reactions to potential setbacks; instead, observe these emotions and give them space. I’ve faced many setbacks in pursuing my Ph.D., and when tough times arise, I give myself the freedom to feel frustrated. Sitting with these feelings allows me to return to work focused on the problem instead of battling emotional reactions.

Sharpening Focus and Productivity
Mindfulness becomes a catalyst for heightened focus and amplified productivity, critical assets in the grad school journey. Implement time management techniques and minimize distractions during work periods. For instance, establish dedicated blocks of time for research and curtail interruptions. This strategic approach can lead to more efficient work and more significant accomplishments. And don’t forget, intentional periods of periods are also productive!
Fostering Meaningful Connections
Beyond academia, grad school is also about forging enduring connections, and mindfulness plays a pivotal role. You can use mindfulness to be fully present in your interactions, whether with peers, mentors, or friends. For example, practice active listening and engagement during meetings with professors, nurturing meaningful connections that contribute positively to your academic journey. You can also find people to practice mindfulness with! One great option is to pursue a yoga class or find some friends who can act as accountability partners. I’ve found that living in the moment makes graduate school much more enjoyable!
Incorporating mindfulness into your daily grad school routine can serve as a powerful antidote to feeling overwhelmed, offering clarity and resilience in the face of challenges. Practicing mindfulness has made me a better researcher, friend, and labmate. I encourage you to try it out!