Katherine Hatcher founded her blog and Instagram account, "Grad Self-Care" in October 2018 as a way to share her story about health and wellness in graduate school. Through it, she connected with countless other graduate students from around the country who are working to find their own meaning of work-life balance. In this post, Katherine shares with us her monthly wellness routine and tips for setting up and sticking to your own.
My name is Katherine Hatcher and I’m a fourth year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Program. My research assesses the impact of environmental factors on behavior and the brain. In my dissertation, I am exploring how exposure to environmental chemicals modifies sleep quality and depression in women undergoing the menopausal transition.
Outside of the lab, I try to foster my passions as much as possible. One of my main outlets is exploring the elusive concept of work-life balance through my Instagram called Grad Self-Care. This account has become a way for me to explore my passion for self-care, alongside sharing the unique stories of other individuals in graduate school who are trying to maintain a positive outlook and take care of their mental health.
Having battled mental illness most of my life and questioned my ability to be successful in academia because of this battle, I respect the power of sharing stories through social media and have found many amazing people through Instagram.
Throughout my time at Illinois, I have also found a lot of strength in tapping into the wellness resources on campus and in the community. These resources have either supported me through difficult times or connected me with external opportunities to further develop my resilience as a graduate student. Grad school is hard, but oftentimes universities have resources that we can lean in to in order to enhance our training experience and overall wellness.
Over my four years I have developed a monthly wellness routine that has honestly been a game changer for me in grad school. Tapping into these resources on campus, as well as those in the community, has allowed me to develop my own tool box to use throughout the month when I most need it.
Here's a look at my monthly wellness schedule:
Registered Dietician, twice per month
I have been seeing a registered dietician through the SportWell Clinic at McKinley since my first year at Illinois. She is an amazing resource (and person!) and has provided me with so much support and encouragement throughout my PhD. She introduced me to many different resources in the community, as well as reading materials and concepts (such as Intuitive Eating) that I would not have been aware of without her. SportWell also offers physical therapy, stress management, and athletic training for students. Most of these resources are included in the student health services fee and are available simply by going to your General Practictioner first so you can get a referral. My home department even hosted a workshop for stress/time management in grad school by tapping into this resource!
Group Therapy Sessions, once per week
I attend weekly group therapy sessions at the Counseling Center, beginning last semester. This group has been immensely helpful for me to connect with other students in a private setting, where we can share difficulties we are experiencing and ideas on how to overcome them. I never thought I would enjoy group therapy, but now I see how helpful it is, because it offers a safe space where I can meet with other students who may offer their own perspective on difficulties we may share. There are many different groups available for students, depending on their need. The Counseling Center also offers individual counseling on a semester-by-semester basis, which I also took advantage of my second year here at the U of I. More information on scheduling an individual appointment can be found here.
Boxing classes, at least once per week
I not only utilize resources on campus, but also have found fantastic wellness opportunities outside of the university, as well. For example, I have been taking boxing classes at CU Women’s Boxing since last summer, and it has changed my life! Coach Jessie is an amazing coach and gym owner,
and the classes are challenging but approachable for women of all varying fitness abilities. The classes are relatively affordable, even for graduate students! I go at least once a week, if not twice, depending on much I can afford in a particular month. I also attend therapy on a semi-weekly basis in the community, as well. While I have not personally used them, I know of people who have attended local yoga and/or fitness studios, aerial arts classes at Defy Gravity, and even opportunities through Champaign and Urbana Park Districts.
Group fitness classes, multiple times per week
Every week, I try to attend as many group fitness classes as I can possibly manage in my schedule. Sometimes I attend none, or one, or even three or four. It just depends on the week! I check the Group Fitness schedule every week, and add times into my calendar that I know work for me. This year I purchased a class pass that lasts both the fall and spring semesters, and I love that I only have to attend 12 or so classes before the pass pays for itself! Some of my favorite classes are BODYCOMBAT, BODYJAM, BODYATTACK, and any yoga classes that are offered. Even though I’m not in the best shape, I never feel out of place, and find the instructors all supportive and motivating!
Okay, sure, all these resources are great. But how do I incorporate all of these wellness resources/strategies into my routine as a graduate student? I know we have A LOT to do. I get that. However, I read recently in Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before that “When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves”. And I LOVE this quote (and had it posted on my letter board for several weeks in my room) because it speaks to why self-care/wellness is SO important! If we want to be productive graduate students, and productive members of society, we have to take care of ourselves FIRST, before we can take anything from ourselves and give it to others or our work. That is why we must prioritize engaging in the wellness resources that are most appropriate to maintain our mental health and prevent burnout.
So how do I manage this on a weekly/monthly basis?
Have a routine
Having a morning and evening routine allots time to myself when I most need it. Over the years, I have identified that my anxiety is much lower when I get enough sleep and have at least an hour in the morning in which I am not doing any work. Having a morning routine that gives me time to have coffee, meditate, and reflect means I have a better work day. An evening routine in which I can stretch, relax, unplug, and read a little allows me to get to sleep faster and earlier than when I try to work through the evening. Your routine may look different, so this is where it is important to check in with yourself and identify the best way to schedule your day.
Create a schedule and stick to it (sort of)
Schedule your self-care and wellness and stick to those items just like you would a meeting or experiment. If you need to, share your calendar with someone you know will hold you accountable for those appointments. However, sometimes you must be flexible (both in work and personal time), and that is okay, too!
Do things you are passionate about and enjoy
I do not incorporate any wellness into my routine that I do not enjoy and I am not passionate about. All of the exercise I do I enjoy, which makes it easier to maintain. My Instagram @grad_selfcare is another example – it is a lot of work, but I am extremely passionate about the work I do through the grad school Instagram community and my blog, therefore, it is easy to maintain a consistent schedule with it.
Surround yourself with support
Whether it is your advisor, friends, lab mates, therapist, program cohort… find people who support you, your wellbeing, your work, and your passions. These people should know that your mental and physical wellbeing come first, and then your work. Yes, we all have work to get done, but at the end of the day if your wellness is not maintained, you will not be able to put your best self forward.
Have questions about self-care and/or how I maintain wellness in grad school? Feel free to email me at email@example.com!
All photos courtesy of Katherine Hatcher.
Katherine Hatcher is a Neuroscience PhD candidate. Her research aims at understanding the impact of environmental exposures on behavior and the brain. In her dissertation, she will be investigating the impact of phthalate exposure on sleep quality and depressive symptoms in perimenopausal women. Outside of the lab, you can find Katherine hanging out with her three cats, curating her Instagram @grad_selfcare, or contemplating the complexities of Humulus lupulus.