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Three students in regalia on graduation day


Starting a graduate program is a big step in advancing one’s career. Whether you are attending an entry-level professional program or pursuing advanced training, simply applying and getting into graduate school can feel like a monumental task. If you’ve accomplished this—congratulations! To be sure you complete the path you started and reach your end-goals, you will need to prioritize self-care.

Self-care is increasingly recognized as a critical component in preventing professional burn-out in graduate students and trainees. Depression is common in graduate and professional school students. At least half experience anxious feelings, with over 86% feeling nervous, worried, overly stressed and easily irritated. (Garcia-Williams, Lauren Moffitt, & Kaslow, 2014). Stress and maladaptive coping strategies are related to poor sleep, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, physical health decrements, attrition and poor academic performance or academic/professional burnout. The good news is that with careful planning and preparation, you can prevent burnout and create healthy habits that will serve you well beyond graduate school and throughout your professional career.

Here are some tips to getting started:

  • Develop a personalized self-care plan that incorporates diversified personal wellness strategies into weekly routines.
    • Regularly examine your current self-care routine and determine where your practices fall short. How will you address these areas? Be sure to plan ways to address the physical, emotional, relational, spiritual/religious and professional aspects of self-care. For physical care, examine how much sleep you are getting and how healthy your eating habits are. Don’t forget to include regular exercise, getting routine physicals and dental care, and taking time off when you feel sick. Create a plan that diversifies your self care across the different categories of self-care. Are there new areas of self-care you could introduce to your weekly routine?
  • Plan ways to manage stress.
    • Students should seek ways to manage stress based on personal preferences and needs. One may want to engage in mindfulness meditations and relaxation techniques, or time management and anti-procrastination methods.
  • Seek social support when needed.
    • Spending time with people who support you is critical to self-care. Make time to participate in healthy extracurricular opportunities with friends and colleagues such as department intramural teams, scheduled meals out, department parties or celebrations of success. It’s important to avoid feelings of isolation by engaging in and seeking out, or planning your own, social activities.

This may seem like a lot but even minor changes to taking care of your body, mind and spirit make a significant difference over time. Remember that self-care is a priority and not a luxury. Creating a self-care plan now and investing in wellness practices will prevent stress and burnout later.

To help you start and stay on the critical path to self-care, here is a list of the abundant resources available to Pitt students and several external sources to guide you to sustainable health and wellness: 

Finally, here at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS), we offer students—in all our programs—a community of support. Be sure to reach out to faculty or staff with any questions or concerns you might have. If you are a Pitt SHRS graduate student, check with your advisor about the opportunity to participate in our self-care workshops. And, as always, take care!


Contributing Authors:

Laura Dietz, PhD
Associate Professor, Counseling Program

Jamie Kulzer, PhD
Associate Professor, Counseling Program