As a PhD student you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about highly complex issues. After all, this is probably what brought you to academia in the first place.
But all that time spent 'in your head' could come at the expense of noticing what is going on with your body and your physical wellbeing. This may lead to situations where you only notice the build-up of stress once you are literally at breaking point.
But all that time spent “in your head” could come at the expense of noticing what is going on with your body and your physical wellbeing. This may lead to situations where you only notice the build-up of stress once you are literally at breaking point.
Fortunately, there are techniques to help you take a step back and regain control of some of those unhelpful thoughts and worries.
From mind-full-ness to mindfulness
I would strongly encourage you to give mindfulness a try. You could check out something like this free online course designed by the Mental Health Foundation or simply take a couple of minutes out of your busy day to switch off and enjoy being in the present moment, noticing what is going on around you.
Feel free to be as sceptical as you want, but there is a lot of solid research evidence that practicing mindfulness can help us enjoy the world around us more.
And this can work for PhD students.
When I encourage students to take on the challenge of spending a couple of minutes a day practicing mindfulness, they report that it really helps them manage the uncertainty that can accompany a PhD.
Those couple of minutes spent switching off from the constant state of being 'on the go' can help you become a bit calmer and leave aside those everyday PhD stresses: checking results, waiting for supervisor feedback, or finding out about the results of a funding application.
Last but not least, practicing mindfulness will improve your focus when you are working. That means being better able to stay on task and finish that literature review chapter you are meant to be working on when you’d rather be binge-watching another TV series on Netflix.
Out of the lab and onto the track
It’s not all about passive contemplation though. If the idea of sitting still doesn’t appeal, try vigorous exercise instead to help you clear your head.
Personally, as a keen runner I often relied on the power of exercise to help me with some rough patches during my own PhD.
There's a good chance your university invests in its own sports and gymnasium facilities as well as libraries and laboratories. If so, use them. The equipment inside may be a bit different, but it could be just as helpful to your PhD in the long-run (pun intended).
Or you could try folding some exercise into your daily routine - perhaps by running or cycling to campus.