De-stressing, Resetting, & Finishing Strong

By Christopher Valencia |

We all handle stress differently. When the workload increases, the knots on our necks also begin to increase. In my experience, my snack cabinet suddenly has more snacks than usual. 

[Image Description: Cookie Monster from Sesame Street eating cookies]

The workload throughout the year can increase or decrease depending on the season. When crunch time begins, it's good to knock out assignments as they come. Sometimes, things inevitably pile up, and suddenly, we become very skilled multi-taskers. Some weeks, the workload turns a notch, and our stress meter rises. But, as many of our teachers have said, a little stress is healthy. It gets us started. 

But if stress overtakes you – meaning you begin to feel submerged in a sea of worries – it’s good to take a step back, consider your concerns, debrief, and take things one step at a time. We may have one hundred and one things to do, but we can only do one thing effectively in the next hour or two and then move on to the next thing. Graduate school and PhD programs, in general, are commonly called “long hauls,” but every stretch of this race has steps. And humanly, we can only take one step at a time. As you move forward in your program – and rock it – I would also like to encourage you to take some moments to de-stress and reset to finish strong.


Many of us can think of a list of phrases to describe de-stressing: take a break, take a breather, unwind, chill down, chillax, step back, nap, etc. Basically, it means finding a moment of relaxation. If you can get to a place where you feel refreshed and then return to work more efficiently, that's always great! 

[Image Description: Snoopy taking a nap on top of a dog house]

In grad school, after passing through a few weeks, sometimes your mental and physical stamina will wane. I remember leaving my seminars and only wanting to take a big nap. After 3 hours of discussion, your brain deserves a break! So, if you need a 15-20 minute power nap, take one! If you can use some of your evenings and weekends to step away from your work – and, of course, not fall behind – this is a good practice, too. Though we want to strive for a balance, we cannot always put school life and our personal life in boxes; I think working effectively is key, but ensuring you are refreshed in the process is also important. 

So take a break, take a breather, unwind, chill down, chillax, step back, nap, etc. It will help you in the process. 


If you are anything like me – not to be too sentimental here – but sometimes you look down the road of life and see a scenery of mountains and valleys all at once. In graduate school, we mainly look at the years ahead, and some of these mountains and valleys are the milestones we must cross. Because we are looking at this entire scenery all at once – the mountains begin to loom large, and the valleys seem numberless. 

Well, there is no getting around the fact that graduate school is an arduous process. But, our perspective can determine much of what we see. It's good to try to reset your perspective. Rather than staring at all the mountains and feeling stuck, just begin to hike the first one you see. Sometimes, the mountain is the work for the day right in front of us – whether it's a complex theoretical book we must read, an article we must write, or an assignment, we must turn in – all we can do is work toward the task before us. As one of my academic mentors says, we will get to those other crossroads when they come. 

Now, this may sound like mere pep-talk. But resetting our perspective can help in different ways. Sometimes, we have traveled a certain distance in our academic and professional journeys. Perhaps we reflect on some of the years we have invested in our work and look at the past years with some pride and with some concern; maybe we realize some things could have gone better. 

Yet, with these considerations of the past, it is equally important to look ahead and consider how the upcoming year will alter and add to our educational journey. Ask yourself: “What new things can I learn that will help me progress personally and professionally this upcoming year?” This is just a small shift of perspective, but it may help us reset and begin working again with a fresh sense of strength. 

[Image Description: Someone pushing a reset button]

Though problems cannot go away simply by pushing a button, for our academic and mental journeys, my recommendation here is to mentally reset. Hopefully, resetting will bring us a breath of fresh air as we take our next steps. 

Finishing Strong!

Having taken time to destress and reset, we can face our work with new strength. 

As different projects and assignments roll in, there are some tasks to which you can give a lot of energy and others to which you can only provide partial energy. Prioritize the more important ones, finish, and gain as much as possible from the secondary or trivial assignments. 

You will discover that since you tried your best – especially on the assignments that were a priority – your hard work will be noticed and rewarded. As our responsibilities grow and we get busier, I encourage you to remember your deadlines. These are the things for which you are most accountable. Turning in that assignment on time and doing your best is your foremost responsibility.

As many of my professors continue to tell me: Onward!