Take It Easy: Tips and tricks to take care of your mental health – by Mina Iskander, GSA VP Student Life

To celebrate Mental Health Day and UCalgary’s UFlourish Week, I would like to share a few mental health tips to help you stay focused during a busy school year.

Being a graduate student can be challenging. We are a unique group that decided not to pursue full-time work after undergrad to do repetitive work in a traditional organization. Instead, we decided to invest money, time, and a stable daily life for advanced knowledge and learning. Although we, as graduate students, are in the age group that generally prefers stability in our social, financial, and family lives, our academic careers consistently surprise us with a lot of uncertainties. This is not always fun!

Going through tough times is common in grad school, thanks to the various stressors surrounding us. It may be a deadline, a really long assignment, a candidacy exam, a defense, a fight with a friend, or a conflict with our partners. Sometimes, the stressor could be as minor as spilling coffee or burning our omelette in the morning. Sometimes, it seems like the tiniest things in the world could challenge us because our graduate student brains are working constantly. We often notice many small details as our minds keep reiterating scenarios. Under these circumstances, stress is normal in grad school.

Levecque et al.in 2017 published a paper titled “Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students” in Research Policy published by Elsevier. They highlighted that: “one in two PhD students experiences psychological distress; one in three is at risk of a common psychiatric disorder.” Do not freak out! I do not want to scare you, I am just letting you know that it happens and it is completely normal according to our lifestyle and challenges.

What I want to remind all #UCGradStudents is that you need to take care of yourself and your mental health. We all know more about our physical health and how to assess and enhance it – LDL cholesterol can be measured in the lab! However, we know little about our mental health and our brains need health enhancement too. Yes, you need to train your brain to stay healthy!

Here are some tips to train your brain that I want to share:

  • TIE (Take It Easy): Take it easy on yourself! Have a nice relaxing day from time to time, and find the appropriate day to do something that you really like – could be anything from hiking to eating chocolate. Remember that better physical health generally helps to enhance your mental health. Additionally, learn how to cope with your lifestyle and challenges, which is one of the most important steps of maintaining your mental health.
  • Four Main Coping Strategies (adopted from The Inquiring Mind program, a 3-hour training session offered free of charge by the SU Wellness Centre on campus):
  1. Set Goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound
  2. Mental Rehearsal/ Visualization: Mentally prepare for “What-ifs”
  3. Self-talk: Focus, Persist, and Confident
  4. Calming/Deep Breathing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoPD0cVquPo)

Thank you for reading and I hope to share more mental health tips and tricks for you in the future. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email vpsl.gsa@ucalgary.ca or check out the upcoming GSA events hosted by the Mental Health and Wellness Subcommittee.

Website: www.gsa.ucalgary.ca/events

Twitter: @gsacalgary

Mina Iskander, GSA VP Student Life
PhD Candidate, Department of Civil Engineering