Taking breaks in grad school is essential, but it can also be challenging. You may know that you can’t just work 24 hours a day, every day, but you can often still feel like you should. You may know that your body needs rest and your mind needs recharging, but fitting that into your schedule can feel impossible.
“Taking a break” doesn’t have to take a long time. While we should all do our best to take extended, vacation-length breaks from time to time, we shouldn’t put off rest until then. Try to carve out and claim time regularly and at a variety of scales. Here are some tips and strategies for making the most of a break, however long it is.
Sometimes you have a hectic day. A deadline is screeching toward you at full speed. You feel pulled in more directions than you have limbs. On those days, you might only be able to manage 5 minutes away from work. It’s not much, but it’s still worth taking. Even a short break can help you take a breath, reset, and avoid stretching your mind too thin. But what to do in those 5 minutes? Here are some ideas:
• Take Some Deep Breaths: Pausing to breathe deeply can help you find calm and build mindfulness, as in this 3-minute breathing space practice.
• Look Out the Window: Not only can a bit of staring help you reconnect with a broader world than your work, but it can also help you avoid eye strain that can come from too much time looking at a screen.
Graduate students’ days are often kind of fragmented. You have a class to attend, a committee to meet with, some research to do, and an errand to run—all scattered throughout the day. That can be enervating (so much shifting gears), but it can also open opportunities for strategic breaks. Take advantage of the gaps between your obligations and do something other than stare listlessly at a screen. Here are some ideas:
• Get (a Little Bit) Lost in a Park: Relentless focus on work can make it feel like everything needs to be controlled and managed. Aimlessly wandering can be an antidote to that kind of stress.
• Listen to a Story: Immersing yourself in a story told by someone else can engage your brain in a different way, letting you escape and explore with the help of a narrator. Give it a try with a narrative podcast or Spurlock Museum’s lunchtime story series.
As we saw above, you can find ways to relax a bit in a few minutes. But longer breaks are important, too. Try to organize your time to allow for regular, full-day breaks that can let you more fully walk away from your work and recharge. Here are some ideas:
• Immerse Yourself in a Craft Project: Making things that have nothing to do with your normal work or the demands of the rest of your life can feel both productive and freeing. If you’re in Champaign-Urbana, you can check out craft supplies from the library.
• Cook Something Elaborate: Dedicate your day to making something complicated and delicious. You could start with a trip to a farmer’s market then see what you can make with what you find. Or find a recipe you’ve always wanted to make and see it through.
Derek Attig is the Assistant Dean of Career Development & Professional Development for the Graduate College. After earning a PhD in History here at Illinois, Derek worked in nonprofit communications and instructional development before joining the Career Development team. A devotee of libraries and all things peculiar, Derek is currently writing a book about bookmobiles.