How to stay afloat when you feel like you are drowning in your school work

It’s the second month of my 2nd year in the MSW program. As I write this, it is 9 PM on a Monday and I just got out of six hours of classes. All I can think about is how the week has just started and I already feel the large burden of homework, papers, projects, and life sitting on my shoulders. It was just last night when I sat in my room smiling to myself because I checked off ALL of the things I had on my weekend to-do list (lots of readings for classes, finish writing a paper, complete a take home quiz, work 4 hours for my job, run 7 miles for a race I am training for, and try to take some time to spend with friends and loved ones). How is it possible that I already have so much piled on my plate already, and the weekend just started again?

I’m not going to lie to you… Grad school is hard! There are constantly assignments to turn in, workshops you want to attend, meetings to go to, and don’t forget your field placement, and possibly part-time job (I have one of those).… and then you definitely can’t forget to eat, sleep, and have some fun in your life as well!

Here are some of my tips for how I survive the demanding schedule of grad school:

Keep a planner… or two: I live and breath out of my planner. If you’re like me, it helps to keep a planner to keep track of big assignments, meetings, workshops you want to attend, community events you want to attend, and anything else you might need help remembering (if you’re someone like my brother who is 24 years old and still doesn’t know the dates of our parents’ birthdays, you might want to write birthdays in your planner as well)! My recommendation is to have a planner that you can have on you at ALL times, so you can write things down at any moment. I keep a paper planner in my backpack, but also use Google calendar to keep track of things.

My planner and my google calendar!

My planner and my google calendar!

Plan ahead: You will get your syllabi for your classes on the first day of class. That’s a great time to map out on a calendar when all of your big assignments are due, and that way you can have a better idea of which weeks/weekends you need to buckle down and get work done, and which weekends you will have some more free time to go on a hiking trip or a brewery tour or a beach trip!

Find time to “blob”: My college roommates and I coined a term that I still live by… “blobbing”. Blobbing is when you do something that requires absolutely no brain power and allows you to completely zone out and forget about the stress and business of your daily life. Blobbing can be whatever you want it to be- TV, reading a book, doing a crossword, yoga, playing with your puppy, staring at a wall, etc.). My form of blobbing is watching TV. I don’t have much time for TV these days, since there always seems to be something more productive I could be doing, but I try to take at least 22 minutes (the length of 1 episode of New Girl) per night to “blob”. Even though it is just 20 or 30 minutes , it still really helps to get my mind off of school and helps me to relax.

Plan a fun outing or trip with friends: Plan something fun to do during an upcoming weekend, and that will be great motivation for you to get through all of your schoolwork. North Carolina is a perfect place for weekend trips to Asheville, Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, D.C., or lots of fun hiking spots in NC! This past weekend I worked really hard on homework on Friday evening and all day Saturday, so that I could spend most of Sunday at the Carrboro music festival. Having a fun event to look forward to is really helpful in keeping up my enthusiasm and drive.

Carrboro Music Festival!!! Awesome bands :)

Carrboro Music Festival!!! Awesome bands 🙂

Exercise: One of my stress-relievers in my life is working out. The problem is, working out takes time! We all make excuses that we don’t have time to go to the gym…especially if we don’t live that close to our gym, don’t belong to a gym, or just feel too busy to leave our desks. On the days when I don’t have time to go to the gym, but need some sweaty stress relief, it helps to remind myself that I can still get in a good workout in just 10 or 15 minutes at my own house (push-ups, planks, squats, lunges).

I hope this is helpful and will provide you with some good advice for when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed in grad school (or in whatever phase of life you are in right now)!


About melaniesadurunc

Welcome to the UNC School of Social Work Ambassador blog! I am a 2nd year Full Time MSW student, also doing the MSW/MPH dual degree. I am from Chicago, and have been living in North Carolina for two years. My social work interests include low-income communities, at-risk youth and educational attainment, social determinants of health, Immigrant populations, and families & children. I am a strong social justice advocate and outdoor enthusiast, which makes NC a great place for me to live! I love to run, hike, and see friends in my free time.
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