If you would have told me 6 months ago that my last year in graduate school would be during a global pandemic, I would not have believed you. I would have laughed it off and told you that nothing like that could be possible… Oh, how wrong I was.
As a graduate student going to school full-time and working, my life before the pandemic revolved around completing assignments last minute and overworking myself… Working in Housing & Residence Life my job took a major hit when students were given the choice to complete schooling at home during the pandemic instead of completing it on campus. Additionally, we were told that we could not meet with any of our staff or students in person but instead had to do so virtually. I saw fewer and fewer students each day, and overall knew this was best for my safety as well as the students, but I couldn’t help missing them. In online school, I started to lose motivation to attend courses and complete work on time and instead began focusing on work.
In all honesty, I was not initially thinking about my well-being at the start of this pandemic. I believed it would end abruptly and that things would go back to normal. As time progressed and things did not go back to normal, I realized that my mental and emotional health was slowly deteriorating. I took notice of me having mini panic attacks over the smallest things like misspelling something in an email or thinking I forgot a task when in reality I already completed it. I began taking more tasks on for work to keep me from remembering the pandemic was going on, and with that came a wave of tasks, school, extracurricular activities/organizations, and so much more.
During one of those moments of weakness/growth is when I realized I needed to come up with a self-care and motivational routine. Easier said than done right? It took me about a week to come up with a routine that could work.
For work, my supervisor and I determined that I should take at least 2 or 3 days off per month and to spend that time not working on work tasks or school if possible. This was the hardest thing for me because I hated taking time off unless mandatory, but so far I have greatly appreciated it. I also struggled with not having as much student interaction as I was previously used to, so we started doing check-up meetings with students in the hall to see how they were adapting to school. We created a weekly words of affirmation bowl where appreciation/motivational notes were placed for each staff member and distributed out each week for bursts of motivation.
School was a lot harder…I had no motivation for online classes, voluntary ones. But, I began a list of why I’m excited to be in graduate schools, such as learning and developing, and what I hoped to accomplish this year. I started remembering why I chose my field and how the information I’m learning can help not only myself but others around me. I also recalled that this was my last year of graduate school, and although it has its challenges, I should take advantage of my last year here. For classes, a fun motivation for me to get off my phone to do school work was an app that lets me plant a little tree every time I leave my phone off for a certain amount of time (App: Forest)! I also try to reward myself with words of affirmation and treats every time I complete an assignment or reading requirement.
Although it’s hard to believe, school and work aren’t everything. This took me quite a bit of time to realize. It was during this pandemic that I saw the importance of my mental health and self-care. When I was younger I used to read entire books in a day, no problem, but now that joy is often forgotten about, replaced with mandatory school readings or work. So one thing I did solely for myself is told myself I needed to try and read for fun at least 30 minutes a day. I now try to watch a movie after work to take the stress of the day away. I call my parents and grandparents more to not only check up with them but to just talk about nonsense. I cook, not particularly well, a home-cooked meal every day and try to eat new things. I clean. I play with my cat more. I bake. I knit. I watch so many tik- toks. And for that small amount of time, I solely think of myself and make myself happy. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s something.
What You Can Do:
Remember, taking time to yourself and for yourself is not wasted time. It is important, and it is crucial for success. Your mental health and well-being are so important and during this time we especially forget about it. Find one thing that makes you excited every day, and let that be your motivation for the day. Do one thing a day that makes you genuinely happy, whether that’s playing with your pet, watching tik-toks, or going on a hike. Remember why you are pursuing your degree and what you want to accomplish with it.
And remember, every day, how completely amazing you are and the impact you are going to have on this world.
Author: Ashley is in her second year of her master’s program at the University of North Texas, completing a degree in Higher Education. She is currently involved as an American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Ambassador and the NASPA NPGS KC’s Communications & Marketing Committee Blog Initiative and works as an Assistant Community Director at the University of North Texas. Ashley enjoys reading, watching Studio Ghibli movies, and spending time with her cat. Connect with Ashley at Ashley.email@example.com!