I have found graduate school can be very challenging to balance. You are constantly bombarded by various deadlines between laboratory work, classes, and different criteria set by your program. Combine this with trying to make time to socialize with friends and loved ones and this can all become very overwhelming and tough to juggle. Mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, are rampant throughout graduate school populations as it can be easy to neglect taking care of yourself when trying to jump through all the hoops set out for you. While I think it is going to be challenging to find the perfect work/life balance during graduate school, I do think it is crucial to find activities you enjoy and look forward to that can take your mind off things (and in my case force me out of the lab).
For me, this has been getting involved with a few different intramural sports. This has been tremendous for me in a few different ways. First, it forces me to leave work at a specific time to get to my game and in some ways makes me more efficient with my day so I can get everything done. It is also one of my main social outlets on a day-to-day basis, seeing people that don’t work in science, and drawing my mind away from my usual stresses. Finally, I think the regular exercise is a great way to blow off some steam.
I also purchased a small, older house during my second year of graduate school that needs a good deal of work. While this isn’t a financial commitment that everyone is going to be able to make during school, I bring it up for a reason. I have really enjoyed the concrete (heheh) progress I can see while working on home improvement projects. So much of science is long months of troubleshooting experiments, where you can feel stuck in a rut and don’t feel like you’re making any progress, whereas, working with your hands can yield almost immediate results. You can spend an afternoon painting a wall or digging a ditch and have results at the end of the day, giving you a great sense of accomplishment when you walk in the door each evening.
These are just two examples of things I have found worked for me and I am not saying they are perfect for everyone. I do however encourage you to try and find ways to decompress and add a bit of happiness to your daily routine. Even small things, like quick 10-minute meditation sessions can really turn around a cruddy day around (Headspace is an awesome app for anyone interested in learning to practice meditation). Finally, If you ever do get that rare weekend where you don’t find yourself buried in work, embrace it and do what makes you happy. Whether that’s camping, going out drinking with friends, or just binging Netflix, don’t feel guilty about taking some time for yourself. You’ve certainly earned it.