Christmas time it’s already here. We just need to hold on few more days before getting our well-deserved break. And since it’s 2019 (although not for long), it is mandatory for blogs, YouTube channels or any other platform targeting the public to have a Christmas special. That’s why, I will talk about something not entirely related to self-esteem, but very important to your stress management: the people around you.
No matter how much we love our job or how much we want our PhD, there is one simple truth: all of what we do would not be as valuable if we were the last person on Earth. Very likely, we would not even care to do science at all, and not just because we would be busy hunting for food. Recently, it has been scientifically proven that loneliness can have major effects on your health (https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/loneliness-is-bad-for-the-heart). We, as humans, are supposed to be part of a greater society and constantly feel the needs to surround ourselves of those who care.
Looking back at my time as stressed PhD student, I realise now how, in the worst moments, I would just focus entirely on my work and neglect anything else. Anything and anybody. I often said no to a lunch or dinner in the weekends, I turned down invitations from friends whom I really wanted to catch up with. Yet, very rarely I got something good out of Saturday night’s work. This should not really be that surprising: to achieve good results, you need to work well, which almost never means to work too much. Based on my experience, it’s never productive to work when you are unhappy or sad. And one of the best ways to be happy is to interact with the people we love.
Therefore, dear stressed PhD student who is possibly wearing an ugly Christmas jumper: choosing work over your social life will hardly lead to good things. You’ll likely get more frustrated, get stressed more easily and keep prioritising your work over everything else even more. It is important to learn to recognise when you are entering this awful spiral. And you need to learn to balance your work with your social life. Giving up the latter will get you nowhere. Just go to that party, or have a beer with that friend you haven’t seen for a while. Even when you are overloaded, especially in that case, you need to take time to spend with other people, even if it means to schedule it and fix it in your weekly agenda. And use this Christmas break to rest. I know you have a lot, and I will work too (unfortunately my thesis is not going to write itself…). But we need to find the proper time for it. For example: I will use my parents post-lunch napping time! Of course, that won’t be enough, but I will try to cut out time for my work without taking it too much from my time with them. Sure, there will be few coffees or beers I might skip, but that’s fine. Again: the key is balance!
Now, I want to spend few last words for people that, for one reason or the other, do not have a strong circle of friends or family in the place they live. It is not so uncommon, especially for scientists who often travels very much or work in labs in remote part of the World. I’ll just say it: coping with stress when doing a PhD will likely be harder for you. But if you recognise this, you are already halfway there: be extra-forgiving with yourself. Not only you are doing a very stressful and difficult job, but you are also doing it away from the people you consider important. You can’t simply ignore this, and you must be extra proud of yourself. So hold tight! You are doing much better than you think! And as hard as it can be, try to create a circle of people. Go to some classes to meet people, or use Facebook to find groups. And while this is important, remember that when everything seems bad, you are only one phone call away from the people you want to talk to!