The Skills You Need as a Grad Student
Graduate school is as rewarding as it is stressful. While graduate programs offer students an amazing opportunity to advance in a specific field, they require hard work, discipline, and willingness to persevere through challenges.
According to researchers Assoc. Prof. Serap Akgun from Mersin University and Prof. Joseph Ciarrochi from the Australian Catholic University, it is important for college students to have certain skills under their belt to create a buffer against the harmful effects of academic stress. A study they did in 2003 indicates that students who are more resourceful in terms of their ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors tend to be better at managing stressful tasks.
So, if you are contemplating going to grad school or are already enrolled in a program, these skills will help you to boost your ability to maintain balance and have a healthy relationship with your body’s stress response.
The skills you need right now
In 2012 clinical psychologist Shannon Myers and colleagues published a study in the journal, Training and Education in Professional Psychology investigating self-care practices among psychology graduate students across the United States. Myers and colleagues specifically looked at the effects of exercise, sleep, emotion regulation techniques, social support and mindfulness practices on students’ perceived levels of stress.
For this study, the researchers analyzed data from 488 graduate students who were enrolled in clinical psychology programs across the U.S. The 400-plus 20–61-year-olds completed questionnaires assessing their self-care habits, namely sleep hygiene, exercise habits, perceived social support, emotion regulation strategies (e.g., cognitive reappraisal and suppression) and mindfulness. The researchers assessed mindfulness in two ways: first, they assessed whether or not the students had mindfulness practices and secondly, they assessed the qualities of mindful acceptance and awareness. Last but not least, the researchers assessed the students’ perceived stress levels along with demographic information such as age, gender, financial and relationship status.
Cost of living to income ratio, relationship status and age were among the demographic factors that increased stress for the graduate students. Controlling for these variables revealed a couple of significant relationships between perceived stress and self-care activities.
One of the first findings Myers and colleagues report in their study is that there is a strong negative correlation between sleep and perceived stress. In other words, healthy sleep habits are linked to less stress. This finding goes hand in hand with a 2007 study that was published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms by Dr. Henrik Pallos from Doshisha Women’s College and colleagues. In this study, a survey of 219 Japanese students revealed that poor sleep is a big contributor to perceptions of having poor health.
The rest of the findings from Myers and colleagues’ study showed that having ample amounts of social support, having an attitude of mindful acceptance and the ability to reframe thoughts around stressful events are all related to feeling less stressed. Mindful acceptance refers to the ability to observe events as they are without getting caught up in the emotional narrative that the mind creates.
Interestingly, the researchers did not find a significant correlation between exercise and perceived stress. Furthermore, they suggest that emotion regulation strategies like suppression were also associated with low levels of stress; however, this might be due to the fact that the participants utilized suppression for the short term.
Myers and colleagues assessed the effects of self-care on psychology graduate students’ perceived levels of stress by looking at students’ sleep habits, exercise routines, mindfulness practices, social support systems and emotion regulation strategies. Overall, the findings, though correlational, shed light on evidence-based practices that students can take on as part of their daily self-care routine.
As always, give these skills a try and observe the effects on your stress levels!
- 1. Myers, S. B., Sweeney, A. C., Popick, V., Wesley, K., Bordfeld, A., & Fingerhut, R. (2012). Self-care practices and perceived stress levels among psychology graduate students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 6, 55-66. DOI: 10.1037/a0026534
- 2. Akgun, S. & Ciarrochi, J. (2003). Learned resourcefulness moderates the relationship between academic stress and academic performance. Educational Psychology, 23, 287–294. doi:10.1080/0144341032000060129
- 3. Pallos, H., Gergely, V., Yamada, N., Miyazaki, S., & Okawa, M. (2007). The quality of sleep and factors associated with poor sleep in Japanese graduate students. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5, 234–238. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00316.x