On this week’s “Mindful Path to PhD,” let’s talk about self-care and the importance of work-life balance. In today’s hustle and bustle that has become everyday life, how much time, if any, do you set aside for taking care of yourself? More specifically, how much time do you set aside for taking care of your soul– not just doing the bare minimum to keep functioning at a somewhat human-like level attempting to maintain a semblance of normalcy to others? Furthermore, when you do take small snippets of time for yourself, how often do you feel a pang of guilt, regret, or weakness afterwards?
For many graduate students, these questions probably resonate inwardly to some extent. Personally, I’ve only just begun to develop an appreciation of self-care after years of putting research/ work/ studies first, and yet I still find myself feeling guilty for asking for time off to visit my family (when it’s been over 1 year since I’ve done so). One could argue that perhaps if I hadn’t worked so hard and sacrificed so much, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now. Also, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work hard, but rather I’m trying to shed a small light on the importance of taking care of yourself holistically. Proper self-care will allow yourself to always be at your best and thus do your best work. More importantly, when you are at your best, you will be happy, you will feel alive. Burnout is a dangerous beast to encounter, and it can be encountered at any stage of a person’s career. Experiencing burnout can make you hate what you once loved and if not treated appropriately, it can lead to more serious issues, including physical and mental health concerns.
As a PhD student, and a young, aspiring scientist, burnout is a common concern. In my opinion, there’s a large amount of external pressure and competition in the general area of academic research. “Publish or perish” and “getting scooped” are ugly, common fears that can drive unhealthy lifestyles amongst researchers. Furthermore, in science there’s always (or nearly always) something that can be done next based on current findings. This perspective of focusing on broader implications and what’s next can dampen the feelings of completion or satisfaction young scholars may feel towards themselves. This all sounds pretty negative (and I’m sorry for that!) and you might be feeling somewhat cynical at the moment wondering where your rose-colored glasses went… (this was pretty much me during my whole 3rd year of PhD), but don’t despair! While we cannot change the system and the culture in which we work overnight, we may begin to slowly shift the perspective. Be confident and make time for yourself and actually take that time. Go for a jog, attend your favorite yoga class, sip and savor your favorite coffee. Do whatever it is you like to do that makes your soul smile. Your work will thank you for it in the long run. Lastly, let’s talk about these topics more. Let’s develop a culture with a frame of mind that encourages and values “me-time” and that sees the true potential that comes with proper self-care.