It’s very easy to stress out, go into a cave, see no-one, eat instant noodles and hunch over your computer for three years while writing your thesis. However, it’s important for PhD candidates to take care of themselves while under pressure. This helps you to withstand that pressure, improves the quality of your work and allows you to emerge at the other end with your relationships, mind and body intact. Remember: a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint.
With the majority of students working hunched over laptops these days, a lasting legacy of your PhD could be a bad back. It’s essential to remember that, because of the way laptops are designed, it’s very easy to slump into a bad posture. One way to mitigate this is to invest in a separate keyboard and a laptop stand. This means the screen is high enough and far away enough so that you don’t have to crane your head down to see it, and your arms aren’t under any strain. Make sure you also have a mouse (rather than using a trackpad) and a good desk chair. Don’t work in bed or sitting on the couch—it encourages bad posture.
So you don’t have time to exercise; but do you have seven minutes? The 7 Minute Workout is designed for busy people. Of course you have seven minutes out of 1,440 in a day! There are a number of free apps and websites that will coach you through a high-intensity workout that will leave you invigorated and ready to face a long day’s writing, reading or referencing. If you dislike the idea of high-intensity training, you could use a tracking device like a Fitbit, which is designed to encourage mobility and reward you for reaching a daily goal of 10,000 steps. A low-impact exercise style like yoga can also release stress; joining a team sport can provide some much-needed social time.
Another thing that often falls by the wayside is diet. Unless you have a kind friend, partner or parent to cook healthy meals for you, you might turn to junk, take-away or the perennial student favourite of instant noodles. To increase nutrition but not time spent in the kitchen, try making a few big batches of vegetable soup, pasta sauce and chilli and freezing it in individual portion sizes. Keep some frozen mixed vegetables to throw into the instant noodles for an extra vitamin boost and try snacking on carrots or apples rather than chocolate or chips. And don’t forget to eat your breakfast and drink plenty of water!
Your poor eyes will probably end up suffering quite a bit as you labour away at your thesis. Make sure the rooms you work and read in are well-lit, preferably by natural light. If you have to work at your laptop at night, consider installing f.lux, an app that subtly changes the colouring of your computer screen so that it’s easier on the eyes, and don’t have your screen as your only source of light.
The mind can do with some extra care while in the middle of a thesis. Meditating is a way of reducing stress, focusing better and gaining perspective. Modern forms of meditation are all about mindfulness: quieting the mind, becoming aware of your surroundings, mood and body. It’s a technique being used by billionaire business people and creative celebrities, so it’s probably a worthwhile habit to form. There are many free guided meditations around (particularly on YouTube) and the free series Take10 from Headspace is especially good.
One aspect of life that often gets ignored while writing a thesis is socialising. It’s still an essential part of life, so even if you have to cut down, make sure you make an effort to maintain relationships with your friends and family. This way, by the end of your PhD, your social network should be relatively unscathed.
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