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GSCBlogPic Oct 22, 2019

Real Air and Pickles: Collected Ideas for Graduate Student Wellness

Undoubtedly, we’ve all experienced the pitfalls of sacrificing wellness for academic deadlines, work completion goals, and advocacy and service initiatives during our time as graduate students. Although it is common for developing counselors and counselor educators to insist upon the value in self-care for our clients, and perhaps even for our colleagues, we simultaneously find it hard to do wellness practices for ourselves in lieu of the very real demands of graduate school. Personally, the pitfalls of this choice have materialized as weight gain, an unexpected willingness to sacrifice personal values for professional values rather than integration      of those values, unexplained illness, and unmet health and emotional needs.

In consulting with peers, both in and out of counseling or even higher education, I realized that I’ve pulled ideas and habits from a wide range of people and adapted them to try to piece together a more mindful commitment to wellness. I share the following ideas in the spirit of collective and communal wellness, even in spite of the challenges associated with graduate school.

 Meal prepping: A fellow doctoral student in my program sets aside a dedicated amount of time on Sunday evenings to grocery shop and meal prep for the week. She and her roommates contribute to making a number of healthy and balanced meals and then divide them into individual meals to spread throughout the upcoming week. Grabbing a singular container from the fridge guarantees a full and balanced meal on-the-go or even if just pressed for time at home. I love the idea of meal prepping to promote balanced and planned nutrition, and I also like the collaborative effort and supportive commitment involved while doing this with roommates or friends.

Promoting Self-Confidence: A first-year graduate student in my program shared that she teaches cycling classes at a local cycling gym. She does this for obvious reasons, such as the benefits of exercise and her love of cycling; however, I was intrigued when she shared her primary motivation for continuing to teach these classes during her doctoral program. She said that, as a brand-new doctoral student, she sometimes feels unsure of herself as an emerging scholar, incompetent as a developing researcher, and overwhelmed as a returning student. On the flipside, she feels really confident and competent when she is leading a ride and supporting others’ fitness. For her, continuing to teach cycling provides her with the balance she needs to continue to feel confident and competent in her new role as a graduate student.

Finding Healthy Snacks: I love to eat. My love extends to frenzied and often unchecked snacking when I’m immersed in work. Particularly when I read a lot, I find that I’m able to sustain my attention for longer if I also allow myself to munch on things. I quickly realized the effects of this as my wardrobe started becoming inaccessible during my first semester as a doctoral student. I posted my conundrum on Facebook, and I was impressed with the bevy of ideas that stacked up in my comments. The healthy snacking idea that jumped off my screen and into my life patterns was the suggestion to snack on pickles. Pickles come in a variety of shapes and flavors - some savory, some sweet, and all crunchy! Depending on the brine, some pickled items have more or less salt or sugar; however, pickles always emerge as healthier than chips or candy (my previous go-to snack categories) and turn out to be really satisfying. I found a pickle stand at my local farmer’s market, and I’m a weekly regular, branching out from standard pickles to balsamic beets and lemon curry cauliflower. Whatever the form or flavor, pickles have become my trademark snack.

Going Outside: Breathing real air is something I took for granted before I transitioned back into the life of a student. I often feel that I spend more time in the School of Education than I did growing up in my parents’ house. While this may be an exaggeration, I know that it has been easy to fall into the habit of spending long hours at school and then transitioning right into work at home. Regrettably, my current apartment doesn’t have an outside space, so I realized that I was spending only a few minutes breathing fresh air each day. I find that even minimal outside noises, breezes, or smells rejuvenate and refresh my attitude and my energy level. Now that I’ve remembered that I appreciate being outside, I make a concerted effort to do so a little bit every day. Even if all I can spare is a few minutes with my laptop on the School of Education patio, I find that the fresh air and change of scenery contributes to my productivity and sense of well-being.

Scheduling Social Time: I feel so lucky to have discovered a wellness two-for-one with peers in my program. We attend a weekly low-pressure, untimed 5K run that is open to the community. We’re not running to win any prizes (there aren’t any) or break any records (we’re really slow); on the contrary, we’re really grateful for the accountability and the comradery of exercising together. I actually think we see this weekly time as more of a social commitment and a chance to visit with one another outside of school than as a fitness event or exercise. In addition to these runs, we also intentionally plan community activities and meals together as a way to connect and have fun outside of our schoolwork. These small chunks of time when we can relax and laugh (or even cry and complain) with one another sustain us through all of the challenges of our graduate program.

Letting Go: In my first semester as a new doctoral student, I attended a talk by our university president, the first female to hold that position and an accomplished scholar, businesswoman, coach, educator, mother, wife, and renaissance woman. When the time came for audience questions, a young female stood up and asked our president how she has managed to accomplish so much with such a high level of success. Her response stuck with me. She said that she chose what she wanted to be a perfectionist about – that her personal/professional goals and identities aligned with her values – and then she trained herself to let the rest go. For example, she decided that in order to be the mom she wanted to be, she needed to be less of a perfectionist about keeping her house clean. I think this is a powerful message for graduate students charged with the challenges of juggling many balls in the air and managing many roles and projects all at the same time. In making a case for wellness, I can see the benefit in allowing ourselves to let go of a few little things that might not add value to our day but perhaps cloud our vision of what we’re really striving for.

In reflecting upon my own graduate student wellness roller coaster, I realize that my best ideas have come from others. I’m so grateful to have collected pieces of wellness wisdom from my friends and colleagues. As busy graduate students, I encourage us all to look beyond ourselves for inspiration, motivation, and comradery in committing to the same standard of wellness that we promote for our clients.

  Contributing Author

Adrienne Backer, M.Ed., is a second-year doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision at William and Mary. She has eight years of experience as a professional school counselor, as well as having served as a clinical site supervisor for school counseling practicum and intern students. Prior to her participation in her current doctoral program, she completed advanced training in supervision. She has served as a clinical university supervisor for William and Mary master’s students. In addition, she has taught Practicum in School Counseling and Introduction to School Counseling, as well as the Clinical Faculty Training Course for William and Mary clinical school counseling site supervisors. She is a counselor for the New Leaf Clinic, which focuses on treatment for substance misuse within the university and the broader community. She is also a counselor for the New Horizons Family Counseling Center’s Youth and Family Groups, which provides her with opportunities to continue working with adolescents. She is currently the Doctoral Liaison for the Omega Mu Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota, as well as a member of the ACA Graduate Student Committee. These roles serve as an extension of her work on the New Hampshire School Counselor Association Executive Board for many years in various capacities. Her research interests include school counseling, school counselors’ roles in school-based trauma informed care, school counseling supervision, supervisor competence, ethical decision-making, and school counselor identity development. Additionally, she is engaged in a research team focusing on various topics within the field of school

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We are all taking 12-15 credit hours per semester, participating in research opportunities, managing work schedules, maintaining a social/family life, or we just transitioned into our New Professional role and have no idea what we are doing! ACA’s Graduate Student and New Professional Blog offers real life vignettes of life, academics, and how to keep yourself afloat despite your crazy schedule. Any suggestions for what you would like to hear more about, please email the Graduate Student Committee.

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