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5 Ways to Cultivate Resilience & Mental Wellness As a Graduate Student

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Laura E. Knight, a phenomenal leadership development coach, recently facilitated a workshop with NAVCAP centering the importance of resilience, mental wellness, and self care. She urged us to consider what healing looks like on an individual level-- healing from institutional trauma, from social trauma, even from the personal hurt we carry with us from everyday living. This workshop began with consideration, moved to reflection and visualization, and finally ended with developing a self-care plan. We were all going through the process of assessing where we were on the wellness continuum, thinking about the choices we’ve made, our life situations, and truly---, receiving, feeling, and planning for the changes we needed to make to prioritize self-care.

I hadn’t considered what the six different type of selfcare looked like in my own life. And, I began to think more deeply about my roles as a mother, a teacher, a grad-student and a researcher. In some of these roles, I had been in service to others joyfully, and in other roles I had assumed a value-stance in line with what was embedded in the organizational culture I was a part of. In both cases, I had normalized the neglect of self.

This workshop illuminated the need for both individual movement and support in a community as healing can be both personal and collective. Our time together reminded me that each one of us has the personal power to pivot and make intentional choices over time to support our holistic well-being. It also reminded me that the culture in organizations and in certain roles or professions does not actively support self-care. In-fact, some organizational cultures are what I call, “work and personal-life boundary-breakers.” There are unwritten, but very real expectations that you will not be respected, credible, or good-enough without over-working. And, these cultural messages lead to people adopting these same values, ultimately causing them to sacrifice their own health and wellness, just like I did.

For those of us who are in graduate school (and juggling all of the other dimensions of our life), I urge you to pause and think about how you can intentionally care for yourself in the midst of a culture that asks--and even expects you to place your personal wellness on the back-burner. Laura E, Knights, specifically asked, “how can you cultivate resilience in the midst of significant sources of stress”? Resilience involves the process of bouncing back in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. And cultivating resilience, must be an active process that you do whether or not you have the support of your close locus, your job, or your school environment.

For those of you, on this journey, here are (5) must-dos to start the process.

(1) Expand your notion of what self-care is and shift your mindset.

Create a vision for self-care that is more than surface level solution-- more

than a bath, or a walk (but a regime, a way of regularly tapping into and

fulfilling your emotional needs) Ashley C. Ford says that self care is intentional

care for the deepest part of yourself. And, one way of caring for yourself may

even be using positive self-talk and having compassion for yourself instead of

listening to that inner critic.

(2) Normalize seeing yourself as more than a grad-student, a

scholar, or a researcher.

The role you embody is not the sum-total of you. You were amazing before

you began your program, before you began your research, and you will

continue to be amazing if you decide to make a life shift. The late-GREAT

Beverly West told me in my 3rd year of undergrad, “if you don’t do anything

else with your life, know that I am proud of you, and you’ve done enough.” I

wonder how she knew to tell me this at 20 years old. Then, and certainly now, I

don’t let myself believe that I have done enough. I must remind myself that

the “me” that I am is talented, serious, joyful, curious, and amazing without the


(3) Create your own self-care plan

Just like you plan really important things in your life, plan for your own self

care. Don’t skimp. It is the meat and the potatoes of designing the quality of

life you want. Assess and acknowledge your experiences, your gaps, and be

grateful for the existing opportunities you have. Laura E. Knights has an

amazing ACE framework to guide you through this process, but there are

others self-care frameworks you can use as well.

(4) Seek out accountability partners for your own needs.

Friends, family, affinity groups, therapists, even using tech/apps (like Shine,

Headspace, Talkspace, or Happify) can help with this. Also, checking where

you are at on the mental health continuum will help you to make the best

choices on the type of support you need. If you need more intensive therapy,

an app won’t be enough. The point is, create combination that works for you.

(5)Prioritize one focus at a time and start in bite-sized pieces over a

three-week period.

Stick with that one focus and communicate your boundaries with those you

love and work with firmly, yet with care. It’s o.k to give those around you

reminders; this is a version of you that may take a bit of adjustment.

And, lastly, chances are great that your university has mental wellness supports in place for ALL students, not just undergrads. Reach out by email; check out their resource page online, or ask a faculty member you trust about how students have utilized campus resources.

For many of us dealing with racial trauma, the shift in not being able to see those we love due to COVID, and even the challenges of creating work-personal boundaries due to extended time work at home, self-care and cultivating resilience can help us to develop healthy relationships and create much-needed boundaries for ourself. As a fourth-year doctoral student, I am on this journey with you. Through our personal and collective efforts, we can make tremendous strides to support ourselves and each other as we cultivate resilience. Follow us on Instagram @navcapworld, or visit us at .

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