The PhD workload can weigh quite heavy at times. Zakiyya explores how taking breaks can actually increase productivity, as well as improve well-being.
Sometimes it all just feels like a bit too much. Too much to get done, to think about, to keep on top of, to pursue, to remember, to… you get the point. And sometimes it feels like that’s just the PhD life, that’s what you signed up for, so you just have to deal with it. Muddle through. But actually, no.
Pause. Take a minute. Breathe. You are unlikely to make any meaningful progress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Taking a break often helps me to find perspective. There’s a whole big world of laughter and joy out there, and this stressful moment in the grand scheme of things is just that, a moment.
One of the best parts of my day is plugging in my headphones, switching on a long-form chatty podcast and just going for a walk around campus for an hour or so. On stressful days, it gives me some time to unplug, a chance to look away from my computer screen for a while and allows me to come back to my work feeling refreshed. It’s not always so easy to leave work behind, but even then, I find going for a walk gives me space to think through my problems and I often return to work somewhat closer to solutions.
Whilst it’s great to have coping mechanisms for those high-pressure periods, it’s important not to neglect mental well-being during the good times. It’s cliché but it’s true – prevention is better than cure. Go for that walk on the good days too. There’s no such thing as too much greenery, too much fresh air or too much physical movement. If you’ve created healthy habits, it’ll be easier to turn to those to support you when you need them most.
It doesn’t have to be walking. Maybe a yoga class or going for a swim is more your cup of tea. Or, maybe, a literal cup of tea whilst delving into a good book is the respite you need. Perhaps lunch with colleagues or a phone call to a friend. Anything that gives you a break from your desk and, more importantly, a break from your research. Your to-do list will still be there when you return, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with it.
Note: Self-care isn’t always enough. Acknowledging when things are feeling unsurmountable is the first step to turning them around. There is professional support available on campus; get in touch with the Wellbeing Support Services.
What do you do to take a break from work? Have any of your own tips or thoughts to share on coping with PhD stress? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Zakiyya Adam is a final year PhD student at the Warwick Institute for the Science of Cities (WISC). Her research looks at commuting behaviours and subjective well-being. She worked as a civil engineering consultant for a few years before beginning her postgraduate journey. You can follow her on Twitter here: @AdamZakiyya