Mental Health & Wellness – Page 5 – UW Graduate School Skip to content

Ground Yourself These Last Few Weeks of the Quarter

We see how hard you’re working.  You’re running here and there, juggling multiple responsibilities related to all aspects of who you are as a graduate or professional student.  In the midst of this spring quarter chaos, we want to offer you some tips to help ground you in these last few weeks of the quarter.

Connect with your body.  Feeling accumulated tension in your muscles?  Are you having trouble keeping your energy up?  Maybe you’ve been agitated the last few days.  These are all signs that your body is stressed.  We know this is common knowledge, but isn’t it interesting how we can easily ignore bodily feedback and try to plough through the day or week anyway?  Try taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to connect with your body (this is very possible as we can easily spend 10 minutes on social media).  Go for a brief afternoon walk on campus or outside of your home.  Sit in a quiet place such as the library, close your eyes, and take several deep breaths.  Match your caffeine intake with hydrating water (we won’t tell you to cut back on coffee, not now!) .  Keep healthy snacks on hand to make it easy to stay fueled with vitamin rich food. Connecting with your body allows you to be more mindful of your stress level and to actively respond to decrease it.

Shift from distraction to purpose.  It’s easy to get caught in a negative feedback loop of feeling bogged down, frustrated, or depressed about all the things you have to do to close out the year or complete your graduate degree.  And your feelings are totally valid and real.  Yet you are also a whole person and not just the sum of stressful experiences.  In those moments, it’s helpful to remind yourself of your purpose for earning that graduate degree.  You want to contribute to innovation in your field.  You are seeking to impact change in collaboration with your community.  You want to better support yourself and your family.  You want to make a unique contribution to knowledge and research.

Good enough is good enough.  Academia has the capacity to make us feel that we aren’t doing or achieving enough.  Yet in reality, we in Core Programs know that this is just not true.  We have the privilege of collaborating, and engaging in conversations, with a range of graduate and professional students throughout the year.  We get to hear about all the amazing things (no matter how big or small) you are involved in, projects and interests that go above and beyond your degree programs.  We also know that you have families you’re taking care of, working at one or two jobs to make ends meet, or that you are not always validated or seen on campus.  We too have projects that are not yet done, and a long list of things we want to get to.  Your work is never done–this is why the world (and your loved ones) needs you!  We’re telling you right now, you are enough.  And we see you.

Anchor yourself in community.  Make the time in your schedule to hang out with friends, colleagues, or family who care about your well-being and success.  Spend time with people whose well-being you care about.  Reach out to people who share your hobbies and interests.  Go hiking with your best friend.  Plan pizza and a movie night with peers in your cohort.  Make plans for connecting after your last deadline this quarter.  If you’re new to Seattle, consider joining a meetup group based on your interests.  Anchoring yourself in community reminds you that you are a whole person!


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, and Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team

Managing Conflict: Strategies for Approaching Difficult Conversations

At an event in April 2016, sponsored by Hutch United and the Association for Women in Science, Emma Williams, Associate Ombud at UW, shared effective strategies for managing conflict.

First, we know that being a postdoc is highly stressful. You have many deadlines, demands, funding uncertainties and questions about your future. Research shows that people who make decisions from a stressed mental state tend to have a narrower perspective about their options. On the other hand, approaching a problem from a positive mindset – one of gratitude, generosity, and grace – can improve creative problem-solving and open up previously unseen options. In light of this, we offer a few tips the next time you experience even a minor conflict:

  1. Take a deep breath and a break. While it is important to address conflicts soon, before they fester, it is also critical to calm down before responding.  Taking a little time, even 24 hours, will often give you perspective and allow you to explore options for responding.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Ask yourself: what would you like to see happen? And, how can you make that most likely?
  3. Consider the ‘who, what, when, where, and why’.
    • Who: Is there someone who can help you have a better discussion? Bringing in another person – perhaps from your research group or from your mentoring team – can both offer support or another perspective on the conversation.
    • What: What should this conversation be about? If it is a seemingly small thing – or series of small things – in the research group, what does this pattern of behavior really signal to you? What’s really the overall concern?
    • When/where: When and where are the best place to have a productive conversation? Find a neutral territory and a time when you can both focus.
    • Why: What are your goals for the conversation? What are the results or outcomes you want to see?
  4. Practice. Ask a peer or another trusted colleague to have a mock discussion with you.  Practice the tough questions or responding to difficult scenarios, and practice remaining calm, respectful, and clear about your goals.
  5. Step away when you need to. If the conversation does go sideways, take a break.  Acknowledge the conversation isn’t productive now and you’ll come back to it. You can name a time/day when you want to pick it up again so it doesn’t linger further. You can also send an email follow up to clarify your goals for the conversation, and be descriptive about what is making it difficult to have this conversation (e.g. “the conversation broke down when…”), and then ask for what you need (e.g. “it would help me if…”).

While you are in it, here are a few additional strategies that can help the conversation go well.

  1. Save your reactions. Try not to respond in the moment from an emotional place.  Take time to digest what they are saying, and stick to your plan.
  2. Consider their perspective. Ask curious questions rather than defending, such as: “Can you tell me more about that?” You may get more data, more insight into their ultimate goals. Perhaps you can also find some alignment with your own goals.
  3. Educate, don’t escalate. It can help to be descriptive about the impact of their behavior on you or on the research group. Get them to see what is going on, and guide them to come to their own conclusions about what might need to happen.

If you need help thinking through a response to a difficult situation, you can also make an appointment with the Ombud Office to help you clarify your goals and work through a productive approach. You can reach the Ombud Office at 206.543.6028 or


Originally posted on May 5, 2016.

Getting Unstuck, Moving Forward

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill

We know what you’re thinking: why are you already giving me tips on how to move forward from feeling stuck so early in the quarter?  Well, we thought we’d offer you some preventative tips to help you pull through, no matter where you’re at this quarter or what year you are in your degree program.  Besides, everyone gets stuck in life, and graduate school is no exception by any means. There are several factors that can contribute to feeling stuck from getting our work done.  We’ve put together a short list of these, including ways you can move forward.  So let’s begin:

Relieving the pressure.  Looming deadlines for school and work.  Family, community, and financial responsibilities.  Preparing for job searches, interviews, and possible relocations—near or far.  Those pressures can make us feel overwhelmingly stuck.  One way to relieve this weight is to re-focus your attention on what you need right now:  Do you need to slow down and take a few deep breaths (repeat every few hours)?  After that deep breath or two, and in a calmer state of mind, identify a single step you can take for one of your tasks that would help you feel you have accomplished something today.  Each task is just made up of a whole series of steps.  We have to start somewhere, and it often helps relieve the pressure to just take that one step.

Finding value in yourself (despite imperfections). We all struggle and have shortcomings. Indeed, in a job interview a common question is, “Tell me about your weaknesses!”  Being honest about your own limitations – not critical, just descriptive – can sometimes give you the awareness you need to move ahead again.  More often than not, we need a trusted conversation partner to help us see this perspective.  Reach out for support from peers, departmental staff or advisors, loved ones, or campus resources (whomever you feel most comfortable with).

Facing the fear of failure.  Academia can perpetuate the myth that we must be highly productive, all of the time.  And if we’re not, we must be failures.  Not only is this unrealistic and unattainable, this kind of culture obscures actual strategies for how to do our best work—and it can keep us from trying in the first place.  So how can we best manage this?  First, it’s helpful to think of failure in terms of progress over time—so you can grow into being that better professional, practitioner, or scholar.  It’s a process, not an end result.  You try, you learn, and you move forward—all the while validating and/or rewarding yourself each step of the way.  No matter how big or small the milestone.  It’s also vital that you build a support system of people who’ve got your back and will recognize your achievements along with you.

Remembering your purpose.  Feeling stuck can make you forget why you are in graduate or professional school in the first place.  It can also keep you in a false feedback loop that makes you believe that you are unsuccessful or unworthy of achievement.  Whenever you feel this way, remember that you are working hard towards your degree for many amazing reasons and focus on those—whether it’s to making a contribution to a field of knowledge, impacting policy that improves lives, getting a job that you love and that helps you provide for your families.  Remembering your end goals helps us focus on what really counts.


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team

Being Intentional Throughout the Spring Quarter

It never hurts to do some intentional planning and mapping out of the most important tasks and goals that lie ahead of you.  This is especially true for Spring Quarter as we know that many of you will be graduating, seeking internships, taking the next step in your program, and transitioning into a variety of career paths.  So why not welcome spring with some intentionality, and start out the quarter on the right foot?  Here are some tips to help you do just that:

Set goals.  You can’t do (and be) your best while attempting to do everything at once.  Your first step?  Take a step back.  What?  We know this is really hard to do in the midst of a tsunami of work, but it really does make moving forward possible.  Make a list of short-term goals that will help your reach long term goals—for the coming week, month, the end of the quarter.   Identify time constraints that are out of your control versus deadlines that you can manage and set for yourself—you’ll have a more accurate picture of a schedule that is actually yours.  Try out the following resources and see what works for you:  individual development plan, decision making, and SMARTER.

Be resourceful.   It’s true—in many instances, completing goals and projects are ultimately down to you.   They run the gamut from writing a thesis or dissertation to gearing up for multiple job searches.  But this doesn’t mean you have to do this work in isolation, nor should you.  Create opportunities for you to get and/or give support.  Co-organize a writing accountability group with peers, who are inside or outside of your field. The important thing is making a commitment to each other.  Check out these guides for writing accountability and dissertation support groups. Seek out opportunities for networking, job shadows, or informational interviews.  Schedule meetings with advisors or mentors (community, professional, academic) that you trust, so they can be your sounding board and help keep you on track.

Make commitments. Sometimes we need an extra push to move forward in our work, and creating external deadlines to participate in events that help us grow intellectually and professionally can help.  We’ve had graduate students (Masters and Doctoral) say that participating in Scholars’ Studio really helped them organize their thinking about their research in important ways.  Just like taking a step back, it can help to pull yourself up from the weeds of your work and communicate with others about it.  Whether in a rapid exchange with peers, a lightning or research talk, or ways to showcase your engagement with service and leadership, get inspired or refreshed by participating or attending UW events happening this quarter at all three campuses.

Stay present.  We know what you’re thinking, “Yeah right!”  Because it feels like crunch time, this can coincide with persistent worrying about the future.  Taking time for yourself to slow down at several points throughout the quarter prioritizes your health and takes focus and energy away from anxious thoughts.  This can look like doing only one task at a time (as multi-tasking never works), spacing out time between tasks and appointments (so you’re not rushing all the time), decompressing by going for a run or doing yoga following several hours of work-related tasks, or doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes (try focusing on the rhythm of your breath or visualize a soothing image).  The purpose of these activities is to help re-ground you and bring you back to your intentions and the present moment.


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team

Mental Health and Wellness


Towards Sustaining a Culture of Mental Health and Wellness for Trainees in the Biosciences, written by Jessica W Tsai and Fanuel Muindi, discussed the importance of mental health of postdocs in benefiting the scientific community at large. Studies are limited, but we can see we clearly have work to do. According to one study, only 13% of postdocs are “flourishing” and we know that a postdoc position doesn’t lend itself to regular exercise, healthy diets, or good stress relieving practices.  Lack of sleep and high levels of stress actually impede performance.  Bottom line: our work will get better if we take care of ourselves!

As the figure above shows, there are many factors that contribute to well-being. Do your own self-assessment to see where you have areas of strength and where you may need to seek more support. If you are experiencing significant stress, anxiety, or depression, there are offices that can help. You may be eligible for accommodations – even on a temporary basis – and it can be worth discussing with the Disability Services Office.

The UW Mindfulness Project aims to increase holistic wellness, self-inquiry, grounded leadership and compassion within UW community and beyond. Check out their Facebook Page.

Health & Wellness provides support, advocacy, consultation and education to the UW campus community. Check out their website for more information.

For additional resources and suggestions on many dimensions of self-care, visit the UC Berkeley “Be Well” page.


Originally posted on March 24, 2016.

Hours and Hours of Office Hours

I am a TA for a graduate level class this quarter, and my professor is asking me to hold 4 hours of Office Hours. I feel this is too much. I had TA’d the same class last quarter, and I had five hours of Office Hours, way more than any other grad class in my department. It was incredibly stressful, and I grew to hate the work because of the long hours. I was hoping that this quarter I can have office hours similar what others in my department hold. How do I tell my professor? I want a good recommendation letter from him eventually and don’t want to piss him off, but there simply doesn’t seem to be an indirect way to tell him what I want to say. —Anonymous

This is exactly the type of situation to take to the Office of the Ombud. They specialize in handling conflicts with others at UW and will help you approach your professor with your concerns. Additionally, you can consult the Center for Teaching and Learning for tips on how to manage office hours and handle the stress that comes with teaching.

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Break?! Making Time For Yourself

We know that depending on your graduate or professional degree program, “spring break” looks very different from your days as an undergraduate–at least in terms of the work. You may be doing fieldwork locally or globally, applying for funding, preparing for job searches or qualifying exams, writing your thesis or dissertation, or working at a practicum site.

All this is true, but this doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate all that is you. In fact, given the tips we share below, you don’t have to wait for an official break to honor–and take care–of yourself. You can make that happen any time of the year.

Press pause. We move at break-neck speeds, going from one task to the next, barely allowing ourselves to just be. So go on, give yourself permission to slow down and breathe deeply, take several deep breaths–for however long it takes. The world will not end, we swear.

Appreciate yourself. Isn’t it funny how it can be easier to treat our friends and loved ones better than we treat ourselves, especially when they’ve been working hard or going through a rough time? So what’s stopping you from treating yourself to a nice meal or new pair of shoes? Why not buy a book you actually want to read? Why can’t you go on a staycation? You know what? There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t, so go on and do it! Do more than one. It’s not selfish. It’s self-love.

Laugh at yourself. You all work incredibly hard in your respective fields, and you are also awesomely, brilliantly human. Both are true. We all can’t help but be imperfect, so we might as well laugh at those embarrassing moments where we aren’t always our best selves.

Let go of guilt. Give yourself permission to not feel awful for taking care of yourself. By taking some time out for you, you’ll be able to return to longer term projects feeling energized. Also, taking time for yourself benefits everyone in your circle, because you’re all the more happier for it!


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team


How do you cope with a breakup of a long term relationship while job searching, moving and taking care of your family? It seems impossible. I feel crushed. I’ve used up my free counseling services due to a family crises earlier in my graduate experience. I don’t know what to do or where to go. My whole world is altered right before I was supposed to go out into the world determined for new experiences and greatness. I thought that I would have them to share that with me. But now it’s over. I’m lost. —I once was a bot

My heart goes out to you. The only responsible thing I can do is refer you to professional counseling. I do have a kernel of good news for you, though. You are still eligible for free counseling through the UW Counseling Center. There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there about counseling sessions for students. A representative from the Counseling Center confirmed that there used to be a cap on sessions in the past, but that is no longer the case. So you can absolutely go back and receive help for your current situation. Best best best of luck to you!

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Building and Maintaining Momentum

It’s nearing the end of winter quarter, and we know it can be difficult to keep your spirits and energy up as you work to fulfill on and off campus responsibilities.  We are right there with you.  Here are five tips to help keep you going:

Set achievable goals.  Rather than promising yourself that you’re going to spend 5 full hours in one sitting to work on a paper, approach time management realistically.  Try writing in 30 minute chunks.  Take a short break and pick it right back up.  This approach can be a great stress reliever, because you can make progress one step at a time.

Set boundaries.  Set healthy boundaries on campus, at work, and at home–and if you haven’t done so, now is a good time as any to practice. Take stock of what you have to get done in the next two weeks.  You can hold off on any tasks and responsibilities that can realistically wait for the next few weeks or month. Boundary setting helps you realize that you do have control over your schedule.

Meet with your support system.  Have you checked in with people who’ve got your back?  This may include faculty, graduate program advisors, loved ones, student peers, or work colleagues. More than one person in your support system is better. Check in with faculty via e-mail or in person and focus on one or two goals you have for the rest of the quarter.  Meet with a peer at the library or a coffee shop to write and go over ideas and drafts.  Connecting with loved ones and community is important and can remind you that you are more than just a graduate student.  Call, text, skype, share a meal, and/or make plans to spend time together.

Keep yourself nourished.  What keeps you going and energized?  Do you need a glass of water? How about a snack or meal?  A short nap or a good night’s sleep?  Is there a song, movie, hobby, or activity that restores your motivation?  Is there something you are looking forward to during Spring Break? Post an image or word in your work space or apartment that reminds of you of what you are looking forward to–to keep yourself moving toward that finish line. And it’s always helpful to reflect back on why you’re here in graduate school in the first place (insert personal, intellectual, and professional goals here).

Have faith in yourself.  You do have what it takes.  Really, you do!  You can do your best now and it will be enough.


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team


I am a first year Ph.D. student and feel lonely all the time. There are several days when I go without any human contact except with students in my office hours. It’s strangely suffocating. I am still not part of any lab, so there are no labmates to hang out with. My classmates go to their labs straight after class so can’t hang out after class. —IsThisHowIt’sSupposedToBe

(This week’s answer is courtesy of Jaye Sablan, Core Programs coordinator, Office of Student Affairs in the the Graduate School.)

First off, thank you so much for reaching out. I know how hard it can be in academia to share emotional vulnerability, and I totally hear you. Graduate school and its demands can create an atmosphere that feels isolating and alienating to graduate students. No, this is *not* how graduate school is supposed to be, or how it needs to be, though we hear you that this is how it *is.* Know that your feelings are totally normal, and many grads have similar experiences. When I was in grad school, the cues that I was feeling disconnected were usually a combination of headaches, not being able to eat, inability to focus, and generally feeling alone on a campus with thousands of people around me. It also didn’t help that faculty, staff, and grad peers were busy in their own work that they (unintentionally) failed to notice I was struggling.

Here are a few things that helped me manage feeling isolated, and I’m wondering if they would be helpful to you:

  • What do I need right now at this moment to feel connected to my body? A stretch, deep breaths, a healthy snack, a glass of water.
  • Whom can I connect with to talk things through or feel vulnerable with (this one is a tough one, but you’ve already reached out to me ITHISTB)? Family members or friends via a visit, phone call or skype, my department’s GPA, off- or on-campus counselors (reaching out to more than one person is better).
  • If I can’t connect with peers in my department yet, what organizations on campus can get me those face-to-face connections with other grads? GPSS and their events, grad student organizations, Center for Teaching and Learning (you mentioned being a TA, so that might be a place to start), Core Programs, etc.
  • What other interests do have I have outside of academia that I need to intentionally make room for in my schedule? Dancing, going to see live music, baking, visiting museums, town hall talks, getting to know the city that I moved to for grad school.

Again, ITHISTB, I am so very grateful that you reached out, and I hope this message resonates with you. Again, no, this is not how graduate school should be, and there are ways to decrease isolation — including connecting with others, which is so important and vital for all of us studying and working in academia. If you’d like, please let me know if you’d like a specific list of campus resources to connect with. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →