…by Sinéad / from Ireland / PhD Psychiatry / 4th Year
You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times; self care is not to be messed with. Now I will say that most self care posts are often written as though they are the permission you need to self indulge. And while I do recommend a solid amount of that, this is also a bit of a tough love situation. Because let’s be honest, we as PhD students can be pretty damn selfish. We’re so focused on this really large and important goal that we can lose sight of all the other dozens of things that are equally and often more important. And to me that also falls under the realm of self care. No one wants to be a one trick pony. So here are a couple of diverse suggestions on looking after yourself during the epic saga that is a PhD.
Don’t forget that there’s an outside world. The world is bigger than you.
Given the very focused nature of graduate school research, it can be easy to fall into a trap of being so focused on your specific line of inquiries that you completely forget that there’s a world outside of it. When times are stressful it can seem like this is all that matters, that your research and it’s accompanying issues/stresses/successes/questions can take over and be all that you see. I think it’s important not to succumb to this. The world is bigger than our own lives and I feel as though *tough love time* sometimes we can forget that. So my advice to you is to go out in the world and do something that doesn’t directly involve yourself. Volunteer if you have the time, send a letter to a friend that needs it, or even offer to make a cup of tea for someone else. Anything that involves you doing something nice for someone else. Which brings me to my next point….
Be nice to yourself
Hell yeah you deserve it! You’re working hard, you’re agonizing over the intense pressure of attempting to make a “meaningful contribution to science” so there’s only one thing to do: TREAT YO SELF
I’d highly recommend starting with a few episodes of Parks and Recreation so you can a) laugh and be charmed and b) understand my impeccably inserted cultural reference. This can take on many forms and doesn’t have to be expensive. Buy some chocolate, a nice candle, or even just allow yourself to indulge in a long nap without any guilt. Whatever floats your boat! Just do something for yourself that is done purely for the pleasure of doing it. Not to better yourself, not to learn something, just to enjoy it.
Don’t be a hermit
My record for not talking to a single human being is almost 4 days. I was living in Edinburgh on my own, my friends and family back in Canada all happened to be away, and I had a lot of work to do that I was able to do at home. So I buckled in and got to work. By the time the fourth day came around I had run out of food and was surprised by the sound of my own voice as I spoke to the checkout lady. I’m not going to lie, I kind of love being on my own and this wasn’t hard for me. But I definitely don’t recommend doing this too often. It can be really isolating working on a PhD and it’s vital that you remember human conventions through the practice of everyday interactions. Reach out to friends, give your mum a call, just take a minute away from your own life to make a connection to someone else’s. It can help distract you, refresh you, and prove that you haven’t completely forgotten how to blend in with the rest of humanity.
Move your body
Go to a gym. Go for a walk. Do some yoga. Whatever you fancy. Just get your body moving, stretch your poor aching muscles, and allow your blood to travel just a bit quicker. I know it’s said everywhere but it’s because it works. If anything, it’s currently autumn and autumn is some of the best time for walks. So get out there and breathe some fresh air. Speaking of….
Move your body outside
I could harp on about all the research on the benefits of spending time in nature but I’m sure you already know that. To sum up, seeing leaves can do wonders for your mental health. I live in a city, always have and hopefully always will, but I consistently know where the good parks are. It really is amazing what a long walk can do to clear your head. It may be the last thing you feel like doing but I’m sure once you’ve done it you will feel fabulous (you certainly wont’ feel any worse so that has to count for something).
A PhD is an inherently solitary experience and even if you’re a part of team, there will be much time spent alone. It can be far too easy, when the going gets tough, to allow yourself to wallow. And trust me, you have far better things to do with your time.
So take a step back, realise that you really are doing your best, and give yourself a chance to breathe.
Be proud of what you’ve done and then take a much deserved break.