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Managing Multiple Obligations: Family and Grad School

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Parents, grad students and professors alike, juggle multiple responsibilities and challenges that influence their health and well being. What can you do to address these issues? It's not easy, but start by taking care of yourself: exercise and eat right. Recognize that the effects of stress on health is influenced by:

Coping Style
Problem-focused coping (take-charge strategies that deal with the problem at hand or eliminate the stressors through problem solving) often enhances feelings of control and reduces stress and its adverse consequences, assuming that the situation can be changed. Positive forms of emotion-focused coping deal with the emotional reactions one has to the stressful event (e.g., reinterpreting the event in a positive light). When a situation is unchangeable, emotion-focused coping may lead to healthier adaptation. Negative forms of emotion-focused coping, such as denial, self-blame, and ruminative coping (repeatedly thinking about the problem without trying to change it), are associated with maladaptive health outcomes. While some research suggests that men are more likely to use problem-focused coping strategies and women emotion-focused strategies, when education and career are accounted for gender differences in coping style disappear.

Social Support
A social-support network is associated with lower perceived work-home conflict, increased job and life satisfaction, enhanced perceptions of control, and fewer stress-related health problems. All busy students and profs can benefit from social support. However, women are more likely to seek social support than men and tend to demonstrate greater health benefits from social support.

Self-Perception
Many professionals, especially women, suffer from the "imposter syndrome" in which they believe they are intellectual frauds, consider themselves less competent than they really are, don't internalize their successes, and fear being "found out." Professionals who feel like impostors are more vulnerable to the negative health effects of stress.

The academy presents scientist parents with a variety of obstacles, barriers, and stresses. But these challenges don't have to harm your health.

  • Seek social support from formal sources of support, such as mentoring programs, as well as informal support groups like brown-bag lunch groups and e-mail discussion lists. Seek opportunities to interact with peers, vent, seek assistance, and commiserate, easing perceptions of isolation.
  • Reevaluate your coping style, and try to use problem-focused and positive emotion-focused strategies.
  • Look for opportunities to relax.
  • Distinguish tasks that absolutely must be done from those that are simply nice to do.
  • Determine what must be done now, what can wait, and what requires consistent small bursts of activity.
  • Seek help at home, whether it’s a monthly visit from a maid or additional child care.
  • Allocate your time alongside your priorities: spend time first with your children and then find time for the housework. Decide to let some parts of your home receive less attention. Get your children involved in maintaining the home.
  • Of course, rely on your spouse and ask him or her to lend a hand every day.
Most importantly, make time for yourself. It's as simple as allocating a couple of hours each week without work, family obligations, errands, or chores. A little bit of "me time" will go a long way in helping you maintain some semblance of balance.

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