In our new #Take5 series, we release a short 5-point post on the 5th of each month.
* * *
In this article on self-care for the PhD student, I attempted to rescue the concept of self-care from two unfortunate outcomes: daunting to-do lists and boring capitalist appropriation. Self-care begins with introspection: what am I feeling? What do I value? How do my daily routine and lifestyle align with those values? Who else belongs to the community that helps me grow into the person I want to become?
Practicing self-care means giving ourselves permission to prioritize our wellbeing and relationships, and this allows us to think more creatively about ourselves and our lives. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about practicing self-care, but without buying anything:
1. Physical health: what sort of exercise makes you feel good? Could you do that thing just once this week? Turn off your inner critic, and instead listen to how your body feels during and after exercise. Does your body want to do this again? How is your sleep schedule? What concrete changes could you make to your evening routine so that you fall asleep earlier, and feel rested in the morning?
2. Leisure: what fun thing do you want to do? Check out what your campus offers: is there a rock climbing wall, a pottery studio, an art museum? If you like reading, use the interlibrary loan to borrow a book that has nothing to do with your research interests: a graphic novel, a memoir by someone you admire, or that title that caught your eye in a Guardian Top 10 list.
3. Putting boundaries on work: graduate school work tends to bleed into all our waking hours, but this rarely benefits our productivity or our wellbeing. Can you check out from work in the evenings and on weekends? When you are not working, could you turn off the email alerts on your phone, so that you’re fully present with your friends and family, and fully immersed in whatever activity you’re doing—cooking, walking the dog, or listening to music?
4. Community: who are the people who make you become your best self? Whether these are an eclectic set of individuals who don’t know each other, or a cohesive group of theatre/faith/activist/outdoorsy/political friends, find a way to spend time with them doing that thing that gives you meaning, belonging, and purpose. Which friend have you not spoken with in a while? Make a date (online or IRL) with that person, and don’t plan anything immediately afterward.
5. Imagining multiple futures: Doctoral work is designed to form us as researchers and professors, and we are encouraged to imagine our career as a pipeline, even though we know, for example, that only 5-16% of STEM PhDs will end up as professors. Whether you hope to make tenure or are considering options outside academia, the process of imagining other futures can help you feel in control of your experience in graduate school. Visit your campus career center, where you can learn to see yourself as bringing valuable skills to the marketplace—not just academia.