Prioritizing You

This past week I (and my better half) have been down for the count battling the pesky cold virus that’s going around this time of year. There’s nothing quite like being sick to remind you that you are human (not an invincible god/goddess you might like to always think you are) and need to take proper care of yourself! Additionally, my husband and I are currently expecting our first addition to our family. Pregnancy and having a cold have made it very obvious how little attention I used to pay to my health during graduate school. Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to generalize that many graduate students often neglect their health and well-being over other factors they may feel are more important during the moment. This week, I’d like to take a moment to remind you, and emphasize, the importance of prioritizing yourself and your well-being.

During graduate school, you’ll likely begin to feel that the whole process of achieving a PhD is really quite ambiguous and incomplete. You will always feel like there is one more experiment that you need to do. Furthermore, during the early years of grad school when your project is just getting off the ground and you are busy learning relevant techniques or theories, you may face an overwhelming sensation that you should always be working. This work, work, work, one-more-experiment-then-I’m-done mentality takes a toll on your physical and mental health. It is really easy to over-work yourself during the early days of grad school and become more susceptible to burnout and feel more jaded as time goes on. However, this experience presents an opportunity to learn when to say “enough is enough” or when to put things on pause (at least for the day).

Learning when “enough is enough” takes time and is better realized with the more self-awareness you have. For me, I began to create this self-awareness through mindfulness meditation. My practice of mindfulness helped me better sense when my mind was fatigued at the end of the day or week and when it was actually going to be more productive to stop for the day and switch to something else. As someone who loved to sit down and do things (assignments, writing, etc) in one go, this was a really difficult change to adopt because my underlying drive says “finish” despite my brain no longer having the capacity necessary to complete the task (or perhaps my work has become more nuanced than something that can be done in one day). The insight I have gleaned through mindfulness has allowed me to take better care of myself, physically and mentally. When you are not toiling away fruitlessly trying to “finish” something that isn’t realistic at the moment, you create more time for yourself to do things that rejuvenate you while not being stressed out by overworking yourself. I think we can all agree on how much better we perform when we feel well (first trimester fatigue and morning sickness was a very apparent eye-opener for me on the connection of how well I feel and how well I work). This coming week, I encourage you to do one thing a day for each day of the week that “prioritizes you” and see how you feel at the end of it. I hope you find yourself feeling more invigorated and inspired. As always, thanks for stopping by this week’s Mindful Path to PhD!

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