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Whether you’re a PhD student or a Ph.D. candidate, it’s safe to say that there is a great deal of stress that comes with this level of academia. Research indicates that there are a host of things PhD students and candidates stress about on a regular basis. Some of these factors include time management, selection of a good thesis topic, student-supervisor relationships, and a lack of financial resources. Another research study involving 5,700 PhD students revealed that roughly 20% of these respondents were “overwhelmed” with their course and research work, leading to stress and anxiety.

Self care is an absolute must for this demographic. By practicing self care, PhD students and candidates alike can combat stress and maintain good mental health.

If you’re not sure where to start in your self care journey during your PhD, we’ve compiled seven tips for looking after your mental wellness during your doctorate. With these tips, you’ll not only get your degree, but you’ll preserve your well-being while doing it.

Remember: There Is Nothing More Important Than Your Well-being

When you’re in the middle of your doctorate, it often feels like you’ve been sucked into a vacuum. In many cases, a PhD is an all-consuming endeavor. It feels like your research and your work in the field is the only thing that matters. As a result, you might think that self-care is too self-indulgent to prioritize.

However, self-care isn’t selfish – it’s necessary. There is nothing that takes precedence over your well-being – both physical and mental. At the end of the day, you can always have a second chance at your PhD components. The worst-case scenario is that you don’t pass and you try again. Unfortunately, when it comes to our mental health, second chances are sometimes harder to come by. If we don’t prioritize it when it matters most, we could find ourselves reaching burnout or even suicidal thoughts. Not only are these dark places much more difficult to come back from, but you don’t deserve to experience them in the first place.

Fuel Your Body, Ease Your Mind

Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is an excellent way to practice self care throughout your PhD and beyond. How does your food affect your mental wellness? Let’s take a look.

Your gastrointestinal tract houses billions of bacteria, which influence the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that regularly carry messages from the gut to the brain. For example, dopamine and serotonin are two widely known neurotransmitters.

When you eat healthy foods, you promote the growth of “good” bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. In turn, you promote the production of positive neurotransmitters. When you’re producing solid neurotransmitters, your brain easily receives and absorbs these positive messages. As a result, your mood remains positive.

Aim for a nutritious and balanced diet while treating yourself in moderation. Your body and your brain alike will thank you.

Protect Your Energy

You only have so much energy to give, especially when you’re dedicating so much of it to your doctorate. Protect your energy as much as you possibly can. Doing so is actually a fantastic self-care exercise.

When we talk about “protecting our energy”, this can be done in a number of ways. For example, it can be as simple as deleting your social media accounts for a week to avoid feelings of insufficiency or comparing yourself to others. It can also be setting boundaries with family and friends. For instance, maybe you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to discuss certain political topics with them; don’t be afraid to let them know that certain subjects are off the table in conversations with you.

Protecting your energy is really about putting yourself and your mental health first. What that looks like in practice is up to you.

Recite Positive Affirmations

Among PhD students and PhD candidates, imposter syndrome is all too rampant. Imposter syndrome refers to the phenomenon in which people feel as though they aren’t worthy or deserving of their successes. In other words, they feel like a fraud and worry constantly about being outed as such. When you’re surrounded by such brilliant minds, it’s sometimes easy to feel like you don’t measure up. These thoughts and feelings can have a dire effect on your mental health.

To combat these intrusive ideologies, try reciting positive affirmations to yourself every day. It may strike you as a silly or superstitious practice, but it can actually have a significant impact. The more you say something to yourself, the more your subconscious begins to absorb and believe it to be true. In many ways, it’s just like strengthening a physical muscle in your body; to do this, you need to keep using it.

The affirmations are for you to choose, but we recommend some of the following:

I deserve to be in this program
– My hard work got me here and it will get me where I want to go
– I am smart, resilient, and capable
– I can handle any challenge that comes my way

Getting your PhD is an incredible pursuit, but it comes with its fair share of challenges. A key part in overcoming these hurdles is taking care of yourself and your mental well-being. By implementing these self-care tips throughout your PhD, you’ll ensure that you achieve academic success without compromising your psychological health.