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6 Ways to Deal with Postgraduate Stress

Anxiety and studying a postgraduate course can sometimes go hand in hand. But we’ve got the ways to cope with your woes.

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed about your postgraduate study, you’re certainly not alone. In fact a study in the journal Medical Education said that mental health problems in need of treatment during the postgraduate year were reported by nearly 20% of students, with no gender difference – and lots of that is attributed to stress. Many will wonder where this stress comes from, while others won’t even realise they’re suffering.

Thankfully, we’re on hand to help – we’ve scoured the scientific community for a helping hand to minimise your stresses.

1. Work Out

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Exercise is vital for maintaining mental fitness, reducing stress, fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. 

With over 26 million visitors to higher education sports facilities a year, any university you care to mention is well equipped with a sport or a society for you. Hate running? Try weightlifting. Love football? Sorted. Watched too many action films? Martial arts. Korfball. Ultimate Frisbee. Zumba. Look beyond your typical tea sports and try something out of the box.

And it’s worth trying. Studies have shown that at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week reduces reported feelings of stress by up to 50%. So hit the road to banish the burden.


2. Sleep Away the Stress

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In order to sink your stress, it’s important to look at the underlying causes. The College Student Journal polled students on their biggest causes of stress. The most often listed stressor at 81% was a change in sleeping habits, alongside causes such as financial concerns and added workloads from professors.

Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes and yes, an increased level of stress. And Blue light – the lights caused by phone and computer screens – interferes with your sleep cycles too.

"Sleep is cumulative," says Dr Paul Kelley of Oxford University. "If you lose two hours sleep and you sleep in the next day you’re alright, but if you do it five days on the trot then you’re in trouble."

So resist the urge to binge-watch House of Cards into the wee hours and reduce your exposure to light in the evening to normalise your sleep schedule.


3. Plan Ahead

plan ahead
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In the same College Student Journal poll, 71% of postgrads were affected by workloads and imminent job searches.  Effective time management could significantly lower stress, so use this as an opportunity to plan ahead.

Collate all your deadlines for the term and put them on your wall. Set reminders to get to the library in order to guilt-trip yourself into going. Ask about potential industry or work placements as early as possible, pressing your tutors for industry contacts. Start looking for jobs well before the completion of the academic year, and most important of all: schedule yourself some free time. You’ve got to have fun as well as studying after all!


4. Budget Effectively

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Students against Depression have got their hands on a study that states financial concerns are one of the major causes of mental health issues like depression – and debts are worse now than when the study was commissioned. For postgrads, the extra year conjures an added pressure as another lump sum on top of existing debt, leaving lots of students worrying about their day-to-day spending.

While long-term debt is unavoidable, a proactive short-term solution is to set a budget and stick to it. Big events like socials and end-of-year stuff can be planned for in advance, while setting a definite weekly figure for food, drink, shopping and textbooks helps both to make you prioritise which events are worth going to (you’ll have to trust us – not all of them are) and help you understand to live within your means.

Free services like the Money Advice Service will get you on the first step in terms of working out what you can and can’t afford. Stick to your guns – and your budget – when you’re being grilled by your mates to go out. This way, it’s all guilt-free. 

5. Keep Good Relationships

keep good friends
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Although a lot of postgraduate stress can be attributed to the immediate workload and imminent job search, the journal Stress and Health found that many students experience greater stress from the quality of friendships and relationships. Women are affected more by friendships, whereas men suffered more from stress relating to families.

The solution to social issues isn’t as easy as getting organised: unfortunately, these are reliant on other people rather than internal factors only you can control. Hopefully, minor friendship and family issues can be managed from a distance. Just keep your eyes on the prize.

6. Seek Help

seek help
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If it’s all getting too much for you, don’t be afraid to speak out. A report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England found a rapid increase in demand for student counselling, with some institutions seeing an annual increase of more than 50%.

You’re not alone in needing help. Enquire about counselling services and other resources with your university. If they don’t have counselling, talk to a tutor or staff member that you’re close to and enquire about uni resources. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last.



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