Yesterday I took a walk with my son in the snow. It was the Sunday of the Thanksgiving long weekend. The day when my work to do list started tapping me on the shoulder to remind me how little time is left in the semester. There are reading responses to grade and work to do on an article before reflection papers and final exams from 220 students start rolling in. But it started snowing, something my little guy has had no experience with and something I strongly associate with my childhood as an east coaster. So we bundled up, left my work to do list on its own, and went for a walk.
Whether you’re in graduate school or in your career beyond, surviving is all about healthy habits. There is no way to sustain being a brilliant student, researcher, mentor, and/or teacher without being a complete and balanced person. That means maintaining your mental and physical health, building and maintaining relationships and community, and using other parts of your brain. It is what we often refer to as work-life balance.
For me, that means not working when I get home or on weekends. It means going to the doctor to follow up on the ailments of getting older. It means making an effort to move regularly even if I can’t get to the gym as often as I’d like (or at all). It means knitting, cooking, and watching Netflix to decompress. It means getting a full 8 hours of sleep. It means catching up with my besties via text, email, or phone whether that’s weekly or a random “thinking of you” message. It also means paying attention to how I’m doing, noting when I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious, and knowing when I need to change my routine to add more self care like stopping work to take a walk and breathe, or get some chocolate.
Not only do we need this regular (e.g., daily or weekly) maintenance, it helps to take longer breaks to step away from work and get some real rest and relaxation (the other R&R). That’s why employees are given a certain number of vacation days in their benefits packages: because we’re supposed to take breaks. Unfortunately, for graduate students and academics, there are no vacation days to signal this. In fact, our “breaks” are really just breaks from teaching and service, which many use to focus on their research.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t work during these breaks. But I am saying it’s not healthy to work every day of every break. I don’t even think you should work every day of the week. It doesn’t matter when you take your breaks. Choose a schedule that works for you, your lifestyle, and your schedule, but take them. That might look like working on the Monday off of a long weekend, but taking time off during a longer break like winter break. Even if the break you take is during time you are visiting family for the holidays or over the summer, it counts.
Take the time to step away from your computer and your books. The work will still be there when you get back. Give your body and mind a break from all the hard work they’ve been doing.