Managing Stress in Grad School: The Power of Positive Thinking

by Cassie Fly

All through undergrad I felt like the stress of managing coursework and obtaining the grades I wanted took away from learning the material. Why did I and so many other students feel this way? This was largely due to the expectation of landing a first job after school. Grades were believed to be of paramount importance in showing employers we knew enough to come work for them. I now know that is only partially true, and employers look for much more than grades. With graduate school being focused on my interests, I find it easier to enjoy learning the material, and focus less on my GPA. It’s exciting to know I am learning real life skills that will enable me to forge my own career. Honing in on this joy of learning, creates a positive mindset and removes some of the stress of school.

Slow down, for whatever you really want will be there when you get there if you work toward it without stress
-Norman Vincent Peale

Although gaining these real life skills and knowledge is exciting, it is also rather challenging and uncomfortable. Team projects and assignments can be taxing because they require a lot of time and collaboration. Your grade is dependent on the work of others. Presentations in different subjects can put you outside your comfort zone, especially when others may have more work experience in those areas. Networking and career planning are also demanding in pursuit of a graduate degree, requiring some soul-searching and self-evaluation. Throughout these challenges I remind myself that growth often comes from being uncomfortable. When I accept this fact, I can find joy in the challenges.

A favorite bible verse of mine, James 1:2, says, “Consider it all joy when you face trials, knowing that the testing of your faith develops endurance”.

When stress starts to overwhelm me, I am reminded that stress is only helpful in moderation, but unnecessary past that. Here are a few practices I have found to help with a positive mindset in the past. I think they can be applicable to everyone and I hope someone finds them helpful.

  1. Stay in the moment. You have heard the phrase “today has enough worry itself”. The mental energy expensed from worrying about future events often unnecessarily taxes our minds
  2. Search for and comment on the positive qualities and actions of others. Seek to help others even when you are stressed.
  3. Create a habit of exercise.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up! Just keep trying.