I do a lot of things to reduce my stress as a graduate student, I want to share these strategies here. I have yet to teach these strategies to undergraduates as a graduate student, but a recent conversation inspired me to do so next time I have the opportunity. I want to mention that I picked up many of these strategies working as a Peer Mentor for a program at UT Austin. Great experience.
Step 1: Make a list of what is important to you. One of the best things that I have ever done is to regularly make a list of what is important to me - both career wise and life wise. Importantly, I value both my "career" list and my "life" list as equals. This way I can find ways to keep up my career goals without losing focus on my life goals. My list looks something like this:
1. climate change research
3. my friendships and relationships with my family
4. caving recreationally and for research
Step 2. The 5 year plan. I make two 5 year plans, one for my career and one for my life goals outside of my career. In this way I can assess if my 5 year plan for my career is going to impede my 5 year life plan and adjust if necessary.
Step 3. Turn the 5 year plan into a monthly and then weekly to-do list. I love lists - but you may not. Use some sort of planning device to break down your long-term goals into shorter term chunks that can be kept manageable. This part takes a lot of practice. If something new is required to make it to your 5 year goal, you may not be the best at assessing how long it will take. That's OK - reassess regularly and make new monthly and weekly goals when you learn more about how you function around that task. The first 3 of these goals is to help you keep the eye on the prize. Getting too far off of your goals and not being able to find a way back is a big source of stress for me.
Step 4. Plan out your calendar. I like to look at my day or my week and think about when would be the best time to get certain tasks done. Sometimes, like right now, when I am working on multiple projects in a week, I like to work on each project for one hour a day. I'll time myself and when the hour is up, I will take a few notes and switch projects. This helps me stay on top of all of the projects without getting too bogged down in one or feeling like something is falling off of my plate. Other times, like when I am writing a first draft of a paper - I like to block out longer times to write without interuption but will schedule in the week more coffee chats with friends or more walks so that I can clear my brain. It's important to know yourself when you do this task: do you like to work out in the morning? Do you write better right after lunch? Is it easier for you to focus with ambient noise like at a coffee shop? Is it better for you to respond to email after dinner? Asking yourself these questions will help you optimize your day and will keep you less stressed because you aren't trying to function in an environment or at a time that isn't right for you.
Step 5. Saying no and the quarter plan. One piece of advice I was given early on is to make sure that the things that you are doing to build your resume/CV are actually worth it. I've also heard this discussed as: "Commit to 4 quarters instead of a 100 pennies" (this phrases uses US currency in which 4 quarters and 100 pennies add up to the same thing: 1 dollar). The idea here is that there are some things that will look really stellar on your resume/CV or that you are very passionate about. It is better to say yes to those things, even if they take more time, then to say yes to many small tasks that won't be "worth" as much to you or to your CV. Planning to build your CV in this way will reduce your burn-out and will help you keep focus on what your goals are.
It's also important to say no to things if they are not important to you, won't help you achieve your goals, and/or will just stress you out. It's OK to say no, even if its to something that you think might help your CV/resume. Working all of the time is not what anyone wants, and frequently the people asking you to do more don't realize what is on your plate already. If someone outside of your central core of advisors is asking you to do something, feel free to respond with some questions: how much time will that take? what exactly are you envisioning? etc. If someone, like your advisor, is piling things on your plate, there are some things you can ask them as well: Is this more or less important than what you told me to do yesterday? When you are asking me to do this, is it because its important to my main project, or is it just a fun opportunity? How long do you envision this taking of my time? I recognize that some folks have really unreasonable/abusive advisors, if you are feeling completely overwhelmed, I hope that you can find someone in your department or in your university to advocate for you so that you can take some things off of your plate.
Step 6: Regularly take time to reflect. What is working and what isn't working? Make notes on what you need help with. If something is taking way longer than you thought it should, think about asking an advisor (or someone you trust) about ideas for getting it to take less time, or for identifying someone that can help you. Consider trying out new weekly schedules if something isn't working.
Step 7: Sleep, breathe, drink water, exercise, see sunlight. All of the ways in which we take care of ourselves reduce our stress drastically. I like to use YouTube meditation videos, breathing exercises, and rewards for doing things like taking care of myself.
I am a Ph.D. Candidate who actively tries to create an equitable and enriching experience for undergraduate researchers, I post weekly about the things I teach and my experiences with undergraduates.