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How to Survive a Rigorous MBA Program: A Graduate Student’s Survival Guide

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. And for sure, acquiring an MBA from a prestigious program is one of many scenarios that lay one’s mind vulnerable to this state. From application to program completion, stress in an MBA program will always be lurking – as persistent as the air we breathe. We do have something to thank stress for though. Stress is a direct extension of our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response which helped our ancestors survive in threatening conditions. It drove them to repel, evade, or minimize harmful external stimuli.

So how do we deal with stress now in modern times while we seek our MBAs? This is the quick and dirty guide (because your time is limited) on managing stress as you acquire your MBA and seek achievements beyond.

Rule 1: Seek Balance

Seeking balance means setting boundaries on how much time you are willing to designate toward your work and studies and personal life. This requires a great deal of time management and knowing how (and where) to spend time effectively. This process is dynamic, meaning, as you’re engaged in the program, work effort requirements will shift from day to day and week to week. Try and get a better understanding of how much time will be spent on your studies each week by reading your class syllabuses and quickly analyzing what’s due ahead of time. By knowing what’s due ahead of time, you can better prepare for and work more effectively toward hitting assignment deadlines.

Also, make every effort not to procrastinate – if you’re putting something off because you don’t feel like doing it, then you’re already making yourself vulnerable to stress when assignment deadlines approach. Try to be aware of when you feel yourself procrastinating and correct the behavior immediately. Persistence in this fashion will help greatly down the road.

Lastly, have set schedules during the day specifically for not doing any work; put those books down and writing utensils away. As counterintuitive as this sounds, setting time for yourself, your friends, and your family has great benefits. These extended breaks help your mind cope with stress. Whether it be taking part in a hobby, or spending time with your family and friends, it’s important to take breaks. And remember, it’s not procrastination if you have time specifically scheduled for this purpose. 

Rule 2: Be Healthy

Easier said than done, but being healthy requires an absolutely necessary change in lifestyle. In regard to mental and physical health, many studies show that our bodily states impact our mind, and our mindful states impact our bodies. Our mental and physical states are intricately woven and it’s crucial that we pursue benefits in both areas.

We are what we eat carries more meaning in this sense. Put in every effort to eat healthy foods and avoid fast and calorie loaded meals. Drink water and beverages with antioxidant properties like coffee, wine (in moderation) and pomegranate juice. By eating healthily, our brain can utilize key nutrients like omega-acids in fish, choline in eggs, B12 in meats, among nutrients in other foods and vegetables that will help our brains function optimally and combat the negative effects of stress.

Other ways to improve our mental and physical states include exercise and meditation. Whether it be spending relaxing time on your own, doing Yoga, or exercising, persistent activity in these areas have many positive effects on the brain and body – all great for combating stress.

Rule 3: Speak Up

Whether it be in the classroom or working on a group assignment, if you’re not clear on a topic or something that was said, or just have an idea in your head you think relates to the objective or discussion at hand, speak up! Raise that hand, or reach out to your peers and let them know what you’re thinking or what you need clarification on. Communication in this regard is beneficial not only for you, but the entire class or team that you’re working with. If something is unclear to you, it is highly likely it is unclear for another person or needs further elaboration.

Not seeking to clarify ‘incomplete’ thought processes in the mind, especially when an assignment or effort depends on completeness, is a stress trigger. If perhaps you do not wish to raise your hand in class or if the situation is not appropriate, or if you feel you’re totally missing the concept, then seek to schedule time with a Professor or Teaching Assistant to further discuss your thoughts. Taking every opportunity to allow an intricate concept to resonate with you is important for stress reduction in the context of information processing.

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