How I Look After My Well-Being

One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed between being in graduate school in 2019 and being a student a decade ago is a greater emphasis on self-care. Part of this simply reflects the proliferation of material avaialble on social media now. Instagram didn’t exist when I was in school, and Facebook was still primarily a repository for college party pictures. There’s simply more media out there now, so you’re bound to encounter more material on just about any topic.

But I’ve also noticed a slight change in the culture itself. When I was a Master’s student, my classmates and I talked about stress over papers and so forth, but there wasn’t much emphasis on overall well-being, or acknowledging the toxicity of academia itself. These days, however, wellness seems to be on everyone’s radar. Mind you, academia can still be a toxic place that drains your lifeforce if you allow it, but the people who live and work in it are more open to admitting its dangers and taking precautions. Here at William and Mary, for instance, we’ve just launched a whole series of workshops aimed at the well-being of graduate students. And more generally, there are comics, Instagram accounts, and other forums where students share how they maintain their sanity.

But what about me? How do I tend to my emotional and mental well-being? Today, I thought I’d share some of the things I do.

Making art every day, even if it’s a small study like these 2″ x 3″ abstractions, is an important way I maintain my well-being.
  1. Exercise: Sana in corpore sano, or a sound mind in a sound body. Regular exercise is one way I accomplish this. It’s easy to get antsy or restless when you read all the time, so getting up and moving is a great way to dispel nervous energy.
  2. Sleep: When I was grad student at Williams, I bought into the idea that I had to stay up late and get up early in order to do well. It wasn’t unusual for me to work until 1 pm, sometimes later, and get up by 7. Not anymore.
  3. Acknowledging my emotions: Growing up, I loved Star Trek, and my favorite character was Mr. Spock because I admired how he was able to control his feelings (for the most part). As an adult though, I’ve learned that bottling your emotions backfires in the long term, so rather than deny my feelings, I acknowledge and experience them.
  4. Talk to myself: This relates to #3. Whenever I’m feeling upset, I’ll talk through my feelings. Sometimes I’ll talk with Brandon, other times I’ll talk with myself, but it’s a similar process either way. I’ll ask myself what I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way, tell myself it’s okay to feel that way, and then figure out what I need to do to change how I’m feeling. I do this out loud because naming my emotions enables me to ultimately let them go. I find this technique is particularly effective when I go on walks, as the movement of my body both releases endorphins and becomes a physical analogy to the process of working through my feelings.
  5. Maintain my hobbies: I am not solely my research. I not only have other interests, but I insist on pursuing them, even if it’s only a few minutes a day.
  6. Maintain my relationships: Once again, I am not solely my research. I am connected to other people, and I need to maintain and develop those relationships. This means that I call my parents regularly, talk to my sister and friends, and spend quality time with Brandon.
  7. Watch the kitties: because there’s really nothing more entertaining than watching the antics of Iris and Gustave.
  8. Remember my priorities: Six months after I graduated from Williams, a young music professor I had known there died of complications from pneumonia while working on a major music festival. His death jolted me into reevaluate my priorities, and as a result, I refuse to let any job or project take over my life. Whether it’s a book, a dissertation, an exhibition, or a career, it’s not worth dying over, and no one is going to convince me otherwise.

In essence, you’re a human, not a robot, so don’t expect yourself to work like a machine. Do your best, but don’t take life too seriously, because ultimately no one gets out of it alive.

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