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When You Want To Throw Your Hands Up In The Air…

One of the hardest things that students go through are periods where they just want to give up. Throw in the towel. Buy an essay. Cheat on a test. Give up.

It's important to stick with it and continue to work hard. But you also have to be smart to deal with the challenges that come up in your studies. Especially in grad school, burnout can be a real problem, and it is important you work to take care of your health.

You have to have courage, trust that you are learning, even if it doesn't feel like it. Even if you are exhausted, and even if you just want to give up.

How do you get through it and stick with it even in the face of these obstacles?

Here are some tips for keeping up your motivation when things feel tough:

1) Inform people. Tell you professors, advisors what the situation is. They may be able to offer some support. You cannot count on it, and it can be depressing to see how little people do for you even when they know you are having a hard time. But if people are informed, they have a context in which to understand your behavior (and why a paper was late, for example) which is incredibly helpful, even if you don’t notice it going any further than that. And often it goes a lot further than that, only behind the scenes, precisely so that you don’t notice it, and nobody gets accused of favoritism or other inappropriate behavior. (Yes, people have to worry about things like that.)

2) Enjoy learning. Learning is tough, no question. But did you know that cognitive effort also wards off depression? Seriously. It’s why so many people enjoy crossword puzzles and chess. Using and expanding your mind is a deeply rewarding activity, and can be a help not a hindrance to dealing with other problems. Many students I work with get so stressed they forget that they actually love what they are learning about, and this stress messes with their focus.

3) Study hygiene. I teach an online course about the importance of taking effective study breaks. You also want to make sure that you're adapting your study habits to your strengths and to your needs. Make sure that you are adopting work and study habits that will support you long term. Remember: it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.

4) Get support. Believe it or not, depression and other problems are very common among students and most universities have a system by which you can get some help or support for free, such as from a psychologist. Use the support you can get. See if you can enlist the help of a senior student for extra academic guidance. Many senior students will be happy to mentor you. A good tutor can also be a great help, since they have professional-level knowledge of the situation you are in. (Students often find tutors more helpful even than their advisors.)

5) Self-care. It is essential that you do things on a regular basis to take care of yourself. Cook and eat good food. Get some sleep. Make sure that you spend quality time with your nearest and dearest. And also make sure to spend quality time alone, with no books, no deadlines, so that you can connect with your own needs and make sure you're aligned with your highest goals. It is easy to get caught up in the pressure of it all, and forget to take care of your own needs. Listen to music, talk to friends, go out to see the sights. Have fun. Dancing, for example, is a great mood booster. Make and listen to jokes.

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