Playing catch-up

Hi there, and welcome back to the Mindful Path to PhD! November and early December were a bit of a blur for me. I allowed myself to overload my thresholds for stress and work and consequently some things fell through the cracks (including my blog writing). I found myself socially, physically, and mentally withdrawing from anything that wasn’t getting my work done. Ultimately, this left me feeling exhausted, cranky, and generally unwell. I kept saying to myself, “Just get through this last deadline, and then everything will be back to normal.” However, I neglected to think about the ripple effect of procrastination that was occurring as I tried to focus on completing one large task. Now that those big deadlines have passed, I stare at the pile of things that is life + grad school items waiting ever so patiently for my attention, but I’m tired. I only manage to look at them thinking, “Can’t I just take a break?” Furthermore, my flow feels off. I feel like there is a disconnect between my brain, my mind, my spirit, and my body. Does this sound like something you’ve ever related to? 

Now that my deadlines have passed, I feel like I’m left playing catch-up on all of the things I should have been maintaining over the last 4 weeks. I feel large waves of relief and accomplishment for having passed my annual dissertation advisory committee meetings with positive feedback & discussion for my future career prospects, and for having submitted my independent research fellowship application despite all of the administrative challenges we had to overcome. Perhaps it is somewhat related to the time of year with the holiday season just around the corner, but my personal battery is drained. I need to rest and recharge, without the feeling of PhD guilt lingering on my mind. I think I’m feeling extra negative energy these days because I’m feeling the pressure to power through some critical experiments during the holidays to ensure the project can wrap up before one of my lovely colleagues finishes early next year. When I found out this news, it was a little bit soul-crushing as I had mentally planned to begin these experiments upon the New Year. You could say that I shouldn’t be complaining, because it is good to wrap up projects and this may be the driving force we needed to finish it for good. However, I am a grad student who is feeling stretched too thin, so please allow my complaining as a form of self comfort. 

Despite letting so many of my normal routine daily or weekly tasks slack during the hectic time of reaching my deadlines, I did not neglect my practice of mindfulness meditation. For me, mindfulness was and is critical to my perspective on pretty much everything in life. Mindfulness reminded me to be accepting of those things that I could not control, like uploaded PDFs being “corrupted” or bureaucratic drama playing out. Mindfulness continues to remind myself to be present and not let myself and my mind get swept away as if I’m white water rafting my to-do list! I could go on and on about the ways mindfulness helps me, but I want to end with the most meaningful way to me that mindfulness impacts my daily life and that is kindness. Having kindness towards myself is so important for not only getting through difficult times, but for making it out to the other side without feeling beaten and bruised. We all deserve happiness, even in times of great stress. Learning how to be kind to myself has shifted my perspective to a more positive one, collectively helping me accept and be present in life. May you all enjoy the holiday season and bring a little mindfulness to make it even more special. Thanks for stopping by! 

Dealing with deadlines

Happy (almost) Halloween, everyone! This week I want to chat about a truly chilling and spooky topic, deadlines. When it comes to deadlines, are you like the stressed out, frightening pumpkin on the left (pictured above) or the happy, light hearted pumpkin to the right? For me, I have always been the stressed out, scary person when facing deadlines. However, mindfulness has been helping me stay like the happy pumpkin even in the face of deadlines.

Graduate school is full of deadlines. Proposal submissions, progress reports, manuscript revisions, teaching related requirements, and the list goes on. I’m currently coming up on my annual progress report for my thesis work which entails a meager 5-pages of proposal style text + unlimited figures & tables and a 20-minute presentation to be given during a 2 hour meeting with my dissertation advisory committee (DAC). Generally, the meeting is held to benefit the student’s work and ensure the student is making adequate progress towards degree completion. My first DAC meeting was a very positive experience (unlike my preliminary qualifying examination) and I’m optimistic for this year’s meeting. Despite knowing the meeting is held for the student’s benefit, I always find myself amplifying + fixated on the same endless worries of grad school: have I done enough, and am I good enough? Sound familiar?

Usually during this time of year (e.g. my DAC deadline), I’m a ball of stress. This year is different. I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation daily since May, and I’ve been noticing its benefits in many aspects of my daily life. Being mindful has really improved how I handled my deadline this year. I was more proactive in the early stage than I used to be, and noticed I was more present when I was working and less anxious or overwhelmed by the task of summarizing my last year’s worth of thesis work. I still experienced a dull, low sense of pressure in the few weeks leading up to my deadline and did have one day of crazy stress, but, as strange as it sounds, I was better connected to myself and handled these feelings better than I used to. For me personally, I have a large appreciation for how mindfulness meditation has helped me understand and face my emotions and reactions in life. If you struggle with stress and anxiety from work and life or maybe you just want to handle deadlines better, then I recommend giving mindfulness meditation a try. If you don’t know how to get started, I recommend checking out the free app, Insight Timer. Feel free to join our community, “Mindful Scholars,” on there and connect with fellow scholars trying to build a mindful perspective in graduate school.