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I often feel I’m not productive enough. There’s always more to be written, more to be read, emails to answer, classes to study for and files to organise. A wise friend once told me that a PhD is a marathon and not a sprint. But how do we stay the course and keep hydrated through the many milestones of PhD life? Throughout both my undergrad and this first year of my PhD, I’ve been collecting information and resources to try and understand how I can use my time more efficiently and stay mentally healthy while working in academia. This post is an overview of information I’ve gained from books and workshops aimed at managing stress and building resilience during a PhD.
Stress isn’t (or shouldn’t be) “normal”. Pushing through stress isn’t always the best solution; sometimes it’s better to take a step back and assess what needs to be done, or just take a break from the problem and return to it with a fresh mindset. Don’t worry about what can’t be changed. Accept things as they are and go from there. Avoid thinking traps, like self-criticism or rumination. Take time to notice and appreciate the good things in life—some people write gratitude lists, but also going for a walk and noticing that the clouds are particularly nice works too!
Maintain and build social support networks by staying in touch with friends and family. I’ve found that relying on my support networks—friends both within and outside of G-VERSITY—really helps me gain perspective. A quick zoom call with coffee and a friend can often resolve what would have otherwise been several hours of stress. Checking in with yourself and others around you can be a great way to pace yourself and manage stress during difficult periods.
Strengthen your relationship with yourself; practice self-care and self-compassion. Create space for activities you enjoy, particularly activities that activate a flow-state (where you can be totally absorbed and no longer notice the passing of time). Don’t feel guilty for not always working! Include these activities in your weekly plan and prioritise them.
Get your body in motion—exercise is a great way to regulate and reduce stress! Incidental exercise counts too, so walking or biking to the office or the lab is a great way to clear your mind and create some space between work and home.
Keep a journal. Use it to document the progress of your PhD. You can write about your research, your emotional state, your relationship with your supervisors and current collaborators. Not only does this help to mark your progress throughout the PhD, but it also is a great reference tool if you need to check back on why you chose one research technique over another several months ago.
Put things into perspective, by focusing on your values. Doing a PhD doesn’t define you—if you fail, it’s not the worst, and if you succeed it’s not the best. Either way, you’re still yourself and valuable.
Though these suggestions are relatively simple, putting them into practice and remaining consistent throughout the PhD can be really difficult. The resources I’ve listed below elaborate on the points I’ve made above in more detail, and outline ways in which you can try and maintain your mental and physical wellbeing throughout your PhD. The first two resources are books which help to plan and structure your PhD with a focus on wellbeing, and I highly recommend attending workshops and seminars that focus on academic resilience if your institutions offer them!
Slezáčková A. (2021, May 13). Resilience and Wellbeing. Webinar presented at Masaryk University, Brno, CZ.
Challenging manhood: When men strive for male-atypical professions (Czech Republic)