When Life Hands You Lemons… (and you have a Paper Due)

By Jenn Andersen, McNair graduate assistant and UNL McNair Alum

We all know that college (and graduate school) is hard enough on a good day, but what happens when life gets hard too? When you consider the mental and physical health issues many college students face themselves, as well as family issues that happen back home, it can get pretty daunting to be a college student. For example, more than 30% of students in college are dealing with the death of a parent or close friend within the past two years (Balk et al., 2010). Almost 20% of those students are at risk of withdrawing from college (Plaskac et al., 2011).

I’m here to tell you, however, that there is support available to help you get through these situations. I bet you’re asking yourself, “How would she know?”, and it’s because I’ve been there myself. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes my second semester of grad school, and my Dad passed away from ALS a year later during my second year of grad school. That made for a rough year or so, but I succeeded in earning my Master’s degree and am moving on to my PhD.

Here are some tips to making it through the rough stuff.

  1. Get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat healthy. This is important. Stress can make it hard to sleep, and a lack of sleep can affect your mood, memory, immune function, and judgment, as well as making it even harder to sleep (APA, 2017). Rest when you need it, and limit your computer/phone use when you are lying in bed. Exercise releases natural endorphins which can help you feel better, not to mention helping with sleep. Eating healthy foods and limiting caffeine will help to combat the effects of stress as well.
  2. Keep the people that need to know in the loop. Make sure to let your professors know what is going on and make sure you understand your options if needed (this becomes even more important in graduate school). I spoke to each of my professors during office hours to keep them posted on what was going on in my life. They worked with me when I was in the hospital and when I had to leave campus suddenly for my dad. Talking with your advisor will help you understand your options and make the best decisions for your specific circumstances.
  3. Find a support system. Support systems take many forms. They may be your family, your friends, or even an online support group. Find people who want to help you succeed!
  4. It’s okay to say, “No.” It is hard to say, “no” to things, especially if you are working towards a goal. When life gets hard, sometimes you need to take a little bit of time back for yourself. You can stay home on a Friday night if you need to catch up on your rest. It is okay not to jump at every opportunity presented to you and make choices that are best for your situation.
  5. Make an appointment with a counselor and for a checkup with a healthcare provider. It’s not easy to handle these big things on your own. Seeing a counselor will give you strategies to cope with grief, depression, anxiety and a myriad of other things you might feel during this time. It can even be nice just to have someone reassure you that all of these things you are feeling are completely normal. Getting a checkup will help make sure that everything with your health is in good shape as well.

Hopefully, these tips will help you navigate the difficult times that can come up while you’re in college, and in your future graduate school program. As always, you can reach out to your McNair Staff for help finding resources for help as well.

Explore posts in the same categories: Graduate School, MSRE, Research & Internships, Study Skills

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