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10 self-care tips for the PhD

14 December 2022

In this blog Kaisa Pankakoski, a postgraduate research student at the School of Welsh, shares her tips for looking after yourself during the PhD.

We are likely to experience several ups and downs in the course of our PhD. Joy, sadness, happiness, disappointment, loss, conflict, pain – they’re all par for the course.

There are going to be things which are out of our control. For instance, the pandemic has challenged people in different ways. I am certain every single one of us — academics, people working from home, parents, those who have lost loved ones, the elderly, the front-line workers fighting the virus, children and teenagers, patients, the unemployed — have experienced challenges with our mood, mental health and wellbeing in the last few years.

So how do you look after the most important person in your life — yourself?

As the pandemic hit the world, I realised that to avoid burnout I would have to slow down. I was juggling PhD work, caring responsibilities, an increasing workload of my other jobs, the emotional load, home schooling, financial concerns, special needs, and the stress caused by the political climate. I had overestimated how much I could do and initially ended up trying to juggle too many balls in a hostile environment, with no support network and insufficient time to rest and recover.

We must try to find balance in an often chaotic and stressful life. Over the last few years I have been including more things in my daily life that help increase my resilience to stress. Here are a few things that have helped me:

  1. Eat a healthy diet. Sugary and processed foods make our blood sugar levels plummet and have a detrimental impact on our mood and health.
  1. Get moving! Working from home can mean that we don’t get enough exercise. As the gyms closed during the first lockdown, I started running. There are some fantastic sports clubs and facilities across the university. Cardiff also has a variety of events, such as the Cardiff Half marathon that you can take part in.
  2. Connect with others. I think by the time the second lockdown hit us, the novelty had worn off and most of us had Zoom fatigue. What else can you do to find meaningful connections with like-minded people?
  3. Do something that interests you, that you are good at, that you find purposeful, or that brings you joy. I’ve been writing non-academic articles, studying Welsh, taking photographs, listening to Latin music, looking after friends’ dogs, and wild swimming.
  1. Hydrate. When I enter my PhD bubble, I often forget to drink unless there’s a glass of water or herbal tea next to the laptop.
  2. Practise gratitude and positive thinking. Think about what you are thankful for. Happiness and wellbeing can be trained. Concentrating on the positive helps keep the negative vibes away!
  3. Take breaks. To be able to work efficiently, and concentrate better, we also need time to rest. Can you find a place of worship or a quiet spot to just chill? In the absence of Finnish saunas and icy waters, I love a bit of yin yoga, binging on Nordic Noir, or reading books. There are some fantastic meditation apps available such as Buddhify, Insight Timer and Calm.
  1. Practise good sleep hygiene. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  2. Disconnect from your devices every now and again. I use the Forest app to stay away from social media. It is also super useful when you need to do time-oriented work using the pomodoro technique!
  3. Spend time in nature. Research shows that recreational time outdoors in natural settings is linked to better health and wellbeing.

Some people may relax watching rugby or sitting in the pub. Others enjoy a quiet walk by the river or listening to audio books. What social or physical activities help you relax? Do you have special interests that make you happy? What actions do you take to ensure your basic psychological needs are being met? What does your self-care list look like? I would love to hear your mood-boosting tips, so please do share them with me on Twitter!

Get in touch with  Kaisa @kaisapan