One of the interesting things about graduate school is that it becomes a crash course in how to take care of yourself. With the constant pressure of deadlines, work, classes and glimpses of a social life, self-care becomes the lynch pin of daily survival.

While many may note the ways in which graduate school becomes unhealthy in this way. I tend to think that it is a challenge that can promote education in critical life skills, particularly for women of color. Instead of burning out later in life from the pressures of work, family and love, graduate school provides the perfect opportunity to educate folks in healthy self-care skills that they can carry for the rest of their lives.

So as I enter my third year of graduate school, I thought I’d share some of my self-care skills that I have learned along the way.

1. Always Get Eight Hours of Sleep

Sleep is probably one of the most critical aspects of my day, without it I can barely focus, let alone articulate an intelligent thought. To often, sleep is viewed as the most “optional” part of our days, so we cut out a couple of hours in hopes of getting that “one last thing done.” The problem is, is that skipping sleep not only tends to make one less focused, it can also compound problems like stress, anxiety and weight gain. My suggestion? Make 6-8hrs of sleep a priority everyday.

2. Make a Schedule/To-Do List and Stick to It

In order to make sure I get enough sleep everyday, its important that I schedule my day in such a way that I am able to get everything else done. Every night, I assess what it is I have to get done, and make realistic and manageable choices about what I will include on my to-do list/schedule for the next day.

By going to bed with a plan of attack of the next day, I wake up in the morning, calm, refreshed, and ready to work because I already know what is in front of me. Cut down on your anxiety by making a plan and then working that plan.

3. Eat Right and Exercise

Healthy eating and exercise have a number of benefits. Primary for me is that both decrease anxiety.

Cutting down on your sugar and caffeine intake in particular decrease anxiety. Increasing protein and cutting out unnecessary carbs will also increase your daily energy and productivity. By taking the time to go grocery shopping and exercise, I cut down on stress, as well as bills. Hospital bills from an unhealthy lifestyle and eating out every night starts to add up!

4. Spiritual Balance

Critical for me is taking some time everyday to acknowledge a Higher Power (whoever that maybe for you). By taking a time out to simply breathe, sit in peace and acknowledge how much I actually have to be grateful for (a job I’m passionate about, a home, family, friends, food, health), I’m able to put everything else I’m stressing out about in perspective.

5. Having a Life

Whatever point you are at in your life, its easy to just get caught up in that moment, whether it be your marriage, your career, or even friendships. One of the most critical things I’ve learned is the importance of carving out and defining your own individual life.

Figure out what brings you joy. Remember to take time out to just play. Find your true passions in life. Be grateful for the person that you are. Prioritize taking time out to meet new people and make friends. Building a support system and an awareness of self will allow you to have joy in your life no matter what other ups and downs may be going on in your life.

The bottom line? My key to dealing with stress is maintaining constant joy and gratitude in my life everyday.