Wellness 10 Self-care Tips for Returning Graduate Students

By Tianyang Zheng

Self-care is important for one’s health and wellness. Because self-care is so different for each person, there is no one way to approach it. Here I have a list of 10 tips for self-care which may help! As an incoming graduate student at Penn, I believe these tips are crucial because they can help ease anxiety and stress surrounding the start of an academic year, and in my case, a new environment! However, please note that these tips are simply guidelines and several of which I have tried and helped me before! Feel free to expand the list and/or adapt it to fit your own personal needs. Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable, go for that!   

  • Self-reflect
    Take a moment to reflect on your past moments. One way in which you can do so is through journaling! Some prompts to help you get started are, “what am I grateful for?” / “What are some things I’ve achieved that I’m proud of?” / “How have I or the things in my life changed in the past 5 years?” The Dream Dash Journal also lists out 100 writing prompts, including a printable PDF! Other ways to self-reflect include setting specific, small goals for the future based on the now. For instance, you may prepare the outfit you want to wear for tomorrow or what you want to eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner for the week. All of these goals can help you stay grounded. You may also take a walk by yourself while listening to podcasts/songs you like! You can be as creative as you want to when it comes to this.
  • Make time for personal care
    When you are stressed or tired, it is important to take good care of yourself. Practices of personal care can help you relieve some of the stress. Some examples may include doing your nails/hair/makeup if you would like to! Sometimes, taking a warm bath, and then indulging in your favorite TV shows/movies in your pajamas are it! The activities don’t have to be grand. As long as they make you happy and warm inside, they are worth doing! 
  • Sleep/rest 
    I firmly believe that sleep is important to one’s wellness. I have found that I feel differently when I wake up after a good night’s sleep. It may be tempting to stay up all night, but your body will thank you later if you try to sleep when your body asks for it. For tips and advice on how to sleep well, please check out Campus Health and Wellness. Penn also has a program available called Refresh where students can access information and practice ways to enhance their quality of sleep. I have recently started listening to podcasts on Spotify before going to bed, and I really enjoy it! You get to learn something new; it can also be calming to listen to someone else talk. This is something you could try as well! 
  • Reach out to loved ones 
    In moments of uncertainty or when navigating through new environments, please reach out to your loved ones. Speaking to people you can trust and confide in is so, so important. You can schedule daily/weekly/monthly phone/video calls with friends, family, and other loved ones while you adjust yourself to a new environment! Having regular phone/video calls gives you something good to look forward to; it can also bring comfort in the midst of the uncertainty of a new place. 
  • Exercise
    Exercise is good for your body and mind. If you are feeling tired and unmotivated, you don’t need to go all out—taking a walk around your neighborhood can be enough. However, if you prefer working out with a fixed routine, go for it! Do whatever works for you. There are group exercise classes available through Campus Recreation. Some activities available through Campus Recreation include yoga, mat pilates, barre, etc. You may also try out for intramural sports during the academic year if you are interested! 
    Acoustic guitar in front of a window
  • Express your emotions through art and creativity
    I have found that the best way to take care of your mind is to be honest with yourself and your emotions. If you are scared or don’t feel comfortable sharing your emotions outright, you may do it through music, dance, art, painting, writing, etc. It can be really freeing to safely and healthily let out your emotions rather than bottle them up inside. Check out this blog post from a graduate student at Penn that gives you great pointers on painting! Do whatever works for you! For instance, I really enjoy writing and listening/dancing to music. To me, these activities are my comfort blankets. I am also learning to play some chords on the guitar when I have some free time. Don’t be afraid to try new things to find your own comfort blankets if you haven’t found them yet! 
  • Ask for help when necessary
    Please, if you are struggling in any way, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are people who can help and support you in times of need. If you are comfortable, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CAPS here at Penn. CAPS provides counseling and psychological support services to students. There are also many other services you can access online such as 7 Cups, etc.! 
  • Eat well 
    What you put inside your stomach matters. When you eat well, your body will thank you for it. To preface this, however, what is defined as ‘well’ is different for everyone. It is important to find what works for you. When do you feel refreshed? When do you feel bloated? Find these patterns and learn to stir away from foods that make your body uncomfortable. A lot of this is trial and error, so there is no need to rush the process! Eat well but also eat happily! Eating well and eating happily are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should align with each other. For more information on nutrition and how to eat well, you can visit Student Health Services at Penn. Additionally, Campus Health has information available on nutrition as well! You may also be able to find some useful tips on keeping food fresh as a graduate student through our blog. 
  • Clean/organize
    I find that cleaning also helps a lot with stress. Having a tidy space/desk afterward tends to be a great feeling. Feel free to donate the things you no longer need to nonprofit organizations and other places! Here are seven places where you can donate your clothes in Philadelphia! You may also give your items to second-handed stores/locations for them to find a new owner! For instance, thrift stores such as The Second Mile Center and Circle Thrift are some great places to donate! 
  • Embrace and let go
    Let go of what can’t be changed. Instead, focus on what can be changed, and take small steps moving forward in the direction you want to. Progress is not always linear; it definitely takes time. Please don’t force yourself into doing anything you are uncomfortable with. Be patient and understanding with yourself always, but especially when things get rough. Embrace what can’t be changed, and most importantly, embrace yourself. You are never alone! 

There is no right answer to self-care. As long as you are treating yourself with love and care, both in mind and body, that’s self-care. Best wishes to you as we approach the end of the summer soon!


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