Self-care in Graduate Life

As I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed last week, I came across an article titled “Leadership or Self-Care – That is the Question.” This title shocked me. I took a second to think about what the title was saying: You can have either leadership success or appropriate self-care, but not both. After reading the article, I understand that the author was trying to portray the fact that many successful business-people tend to put their careers before their personal needs – a phenomenon not limited to the corporate workplace. However, I do not agree with the sentiment that you have to choose either success in the workplace OR personal well-being. I believe they need to go hand-in-hand to optimize overall success.

As a graduate student, my workplace is the lab. There are leadership components in graduate school, juggling TA positions, meetings with supervisors and committee members, writing theses, and mentoring younger students. We, as grad students, work long hours when we have to, and go out of our way to make sure our work is comprehensive and presentable. These tasks require great co-ordination skills, time-management, and initiative. In order to execute these skills as a graduate student, it is important to take care of yourself first, to make sure you’re both mentally and physically ready to do so. Thankfully, the last line of the article was, “Rejuvenating yourself will strengthen your leadership.” I completely agree with that statement, and I’ve come up with a list of ways to rejuvenate yourself before December comes and the looming deadlines start approaching.

Mindfulness exercises:

Have you ever taken a mindfulness minute? I did my first one very recently, and it honestly changed the rest of my day. A mindfulness minute is when you take one minute to close your eyes, sit with your feet flat on the ground, and focus on your breathing. You can ask yourself some guiding questions: Why am I here right now? How can I be most successful in the next hour? What can I contribute today? The goal of the exercise is to clear your mind and start fresh – just BE. It’s sort of like a reset button for your day. It’s only one minute of your time, and can change the entire course of your day, so next time you just need a minute – take one!

If you’re short on time, try just taking 10 deep breaths. Focusing on the long inhales and subsequent long exhales can help clear your mind and refocus on the task at hand. If you have more time, you may find a calming hobby that you can spend time doing. I have a colouring book at home that I spend time on whenever I have free time in the evenings, and it helps me to forget about everything else and just focus on creating a masterpiece! Find your release in an activity that you like and that comforts you – no matter what it is – and set aside a small amount of time every week to do it!

Physical activity:

The key to being physically active is finding an activity that you truly enjoy. If you like doing it, you’re more likely to stick to it. It doesn’t have to be a vigorous activity – just getting your body moving even with yoga or stretching will get your blood pumping and help you feel better. It’s easy to push physical activity to the side, but make time for it in your schedule and stick to that time like you stick to every other meeting. That way, you have an hour or so every day (I personally work out in the mornings before I go into the lab to make sure I get it done) that you dedicate to putting yourself first and getting your daily exercise. It will make you feel less sluggish at your desk, and more able to be successful and productive during the day!

Eat healthy:

You’ve heard this time and time again: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Personally, breakfast is my favourite meal, so I like to believe it’s also the most important. Eating breakfast every morning gets your brain fed and ready to tackle the day ahead. If you’re a person who doesn’t like to eat breakfast, then make sure you have a backup plan in place to ensure you get enough fuel during the day. Do you need to keep snacks at your desk? Do you need to do meal prep early in the week to make sure you have food ready every day? Do you need to pack your lunch to make sure you have time to eat it every day? I keep apples and granola bars in the lab for those long days when I need to eat food to go on. Whatever it is you have to do, find what works for you and plan around it. Good food helps your brain and body function, a very important step to taking care of yourself and being successful in your workplace!


The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be underestimated. This one is the hardest for me to maintain, because somehow whenever I sleep well one night, the next night I go to bed late again. If you can get your sleep patterns on a regular schedule, it will help your day to be on a regular schedule and you will remain productive, no matter what the day holds. Sleeping well helps you to feel relaxed and rejuvenated in the morning, so make sure you get those zzz’s!

Make time for other people:

Setting aside time to spend with friends and family can be very relaxing. When you’re with others, try to take a real break – put your phone away, push thoughts of your work to the side, and truly enjoy their company. Being able to be present in the moment with the people who make you feel most comfortable is a necessity to your social health and overall well-being. So invite some friends over for dinner, meet up with someone for coffee, and tell someone how much they mean to you! It will make their day and yours.

So, there is no need to choose leadership or any other quality over self-care. You need to be functioning well – mentally, physically, and socially – to be successful in any aspect of life, so don’t underestimate the importance of taking care of yourself. Put yourself first, and stay rejuvenated this month!


Sturgis, K. (May 2, 2015). Leadership or Self-Care – That is the Question. [LinkedIn Article]. Retrieved from:


Banner image by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @na0mirlima // @gradlifemcgill

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