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Peer Advice: The Mindset of Self-care I wish I had Adopted Sooner in Grad School


For those who have been on a quarter system, you know it goes by fast.

What you don’t know is that a grad school quarter system feels even faster. Lecture exams typically start after week 3 and are taken weekly during your Fall and Winter quarters of your first year. Throw in a clinical lab proficiency every 3 weeks and you have a solid exam schedule. By Spring quarter of your first year, you will have two lecture exams every week-with two alternating clinical proficiencies until finals week! This may sound overwhelming, but it’s completely doable if you take it ‘one test/proficiency at a time’. You will hear many second- and third-year OD students say this, but it is true. Changing your mindset from undergrad cramming, to keeping up with course material will change your study habits and your wellbeing.

By no means is this blog post intended to scare you, but rather to prepare you. It can be easy to stay focused on your productivity and feeling guilty for “losing” an hour or two of study time but finding ways to release stress is crucial so you don’t run yourself down.

1. Figure out what activities satisfy your relaxation/recharge needs.

Do you find yourself enjoying alone time at home? Watching TV or listening to music in bed? Do you prefer to be with others? Going on an adventure? Sometimes we need both introverted and extroverted activities to satisfy us, and that’s ok! After an extremely hard week I find myself wanting to hermit in my apartment and do a ‘self-care’ day. This includes a long shower, painting my nails, cooking a nice dinner, and calling my mom. Other times, I invite my friends over for dinner or take a quick day trip to the beach. Finding which activities that best fits your needs is the first step in allocating the right amount of time into your schedule for it. (I highly recommend reading "Weekly Planner (and Saturday’s off)” by Dhara Patel.

2. Remind yourself you deserve and need this time.

Sometimes you feel like you don’t ‘deserve’ an hour outside because you slept in until 10AM. Or going to the gym for an hour or two is too much of a sacrifice because you didn’t get to finish watching/taking notes for a lecture that you really wanted to finish that day. While it’s great that you are determined to finish the task at hand, you won’t retain the information as well if you are too burnt out!

A typical lecture is 1.5 hours long, and if you find yourself pausing the lecture-capture every 15 minutes because you are distracted, that 1.5-hour allotment of time can easily become a two- or three-hour lecture! 

3. Remember you aren’t doing this alone. You have many different types of support systems.

Reach out to your classmates if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. These are the folks you’ll be studying, laughing, crying, and practicing difficult clinical skills with. They’re there in the trenches with you. It’s ok to share your thoughts and feelings- because chances are they’re feeling the exact same way. Venting is cathartic.

Call or text your non-grad school friends. It’s nice to talk and think about non-school related topics. Make plans for a weekend day trip, or an after finals trip! It gives you something to look forward to and motivates you to ‘keep on keeping on’.

4. Cherish the ‘mess’. 

Finally, appreciate and commend yourself on your accomplishments. Just like in sports and the lottery, you can’t ‘win’ every time. But you can feel proud of yourself for making it through the rough patches. Without the lows you can’t experience the highs. Remember optometry school is something you can’t relive, take it all in and breathe. You’re smart, you’re dedicated, and you’re here to become the healthcare professional that your community needs. You are more than qualified to be here.