Last month, the AMHC co-hosted a #MHPhDChat session on Twitter. Together with @CRThomasPhD and other “tweeps” we talked about self-ideals and self-compassion. In case you missed our chat session, here are the three important take-aways from the chat. Please join us next time!
Compassion in self-evaluation
As graduate students, our weekly to-do list might consist of attending classes, conducting research, writing, teaching classes, marking, mentoring undergraduates and junior scholars, and meeting with our supervisors and committee members – not to mention all of our usual everyday activities!
All these different responsibilities can put immense pressure on us, and in turn negatively affect our physical and mental health. Stressful situations are almost inevitable during grad school, but there are ways of coping. Our Twitter chat focused on the importance of practicing self-compassion, which involves acknowledging and accepting negative experiences, and using them to learn. As discussed previously on AMHC, self-compassion and self-acceptance can be transformative.
With this mindset, we avoid harsh self-judgement when things don’t go as perfectly as we had planned or intended. Instead, we acknowledge our current circumstances, recognize our feelings and emotions, and are kind and understanding to ourselves.
It’s also important to avoid focusing on comparisons with others. While it can be helpful to look to others for inspiration, when we compare ourselves to our colleagues we also need to recognize that everyone learns and works in different ways and at a different pace. As one person suggested, aim for productivity rather than perfection:
If you had the chance, what would you tell your younger PhD-self?
Hindsight is of course 20-20, and we don’t get “do-overs” in life. But taking advice from others who are reflecting on their experiences can be a good way to avoid common pitfalls.
Taking regular breaks is another important point. Not only should you take breaks during the day, but sometimes you need a complete day off for yourself. If you feel stressed and overworked, working even harder may make you feel worse. However, if we take an intentional step back, we create some distance between us and the situation, which can generate new perspectives and possible solutions, and help us to start again with renewed vigour.
If your PhD program and personal situation allows, travelling or getting out of town might be a good idea. A change of scenery can be incredibly refreshing and can also increase productivity. Another . Connecting with other people can make us feel understood, and make us feel less alone and isolated. Lastly, we discussed the critical importance of bridging the gap between faculty and students. Receiving faculty support is a huge help during grad school.
Combatting social isolation in graduate school can feel like a challenge. You are not alone! Consider joining in the next #MHPhDChat on February 14th – it is a great way to connect with other grad students, post-docs, and academics who are willing to lend a sympathetic ear.