Self Care

I’d originally thought I was going to finish on Zzzz, but when the opportunity arose to get a guest-blog written by clinical psychologist @Dr_E_Headspace from Headspace Guildford, I jumped at the chance. (Slightly guiltily – guest blogs are within the #AtoZChallenge rules, aren’t they?). Self care is an important life-skill, whatever you are up to and writing a thesis is no different…


Self care sometimes gets ignored as fluffy mumbo jumbo. However looking after yourself is crucial if you are:

1) Going to hand in something worth reading
2) You are going to make it through to submission date, and present as vaguely together when you sit your viva.

Plus, it’s just nice to be nice to yourself.

Now, does this picture ring any bells? It’s getting close to a deadline and you’ve had an unproductive day. About 4pm you sit down and actually get something written. You stop for dinner later on (you know, one of those really healthy dinners of pizza/noodles/bacon sandwiches/crisps and doughnuts) and then keep working. You’re getting tired but you are also in the zone. Coffee/coke/further cake helps you to push on through. When you eventually stop work it is close to midnight. You realise how hungry you are, so finish off the pizza/doughnuts. Then you watch inane TV just to put a buffer between your thesis and your bed. You crawl into bed after 1am and take ages to fall asleep: it’s a combination of feeling pretty wired and paragraphs of your writing going round and round your head. You sleep late, waking after 11am and getting up at midday. Repeat this a few too many times and you’re starting to feel really rough.

Self care includes another S…sleep hygiene. We know that your body clock is set by the time that you get up, and that light (from computer screens, TV, tablets, phones etc) stops your brain producing the chemicals required to make you sleepy. We also know that lack of exercise and junk food both make it harder to sleep. At its worse messing with your sleep can lead to complete day-night reversal. Best case scenario is that you continue to function but have a bad case of jet lag all the time and struggle to stay awake in an afternoon meeting. And if that doesn’t sound that bad don’t forget that data which suggests people with chronic jet lag (shift workers and PhD students) are more at risk of heart disease, diabetes and a raft of other difficulties. In summary: sleep badly – die early.

So, if you want to be top of your game, write a good thesis and still be in some kind of decent condition at the end of it all then you do need to look after yourself. Go out for that run you were planning, make it to a yoga class or have a swim from time to time. And at the risk of sounding like your mum, eat healthily when you can. If you can possibly face it, get up at a similar time each day (even the weekends/those days when your supervisor is away). This helps your body clock set itself. Also connect with your friends, both those who really get your thesis and will tolerate you talking for hours in immense detail and those who couldn’t care less about it and make you talk about more inane stuff. And if you’re having a tough day, be nice to yourself. Sometimes it is ok to eat a few doughnuts. This is the stuff of self care.

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