PhD Self-Care Project: Simple Stress-Relieving Hacks

Sometimes it’s just one of those particularly stressful days where there is nothing majorly maddening happening but, instead, many small irksome situations, such as an upsetting phone conversation, or an annoying commute to work, or even a pending submission deadline I keep putting off. They add up and can seem too much to handle. Also, life in general tends to get very busy, and University pressure in addition to home life, work life, and personal life can accumulate bit by bit, too.

I needed to manage my stress before I had a breakdown, and so drawing on from my undergraduate degree in Psychology, as well as years of attending wellbeing seminars and retreats, I finally decided to apply some of the concepts I have learned over the years. I experimented on a few techniques and found two that worked really well for me.


Recently, I found that I tend to get anxious a few times during the day and, even though it may sound so simple, deep breathing exercises truly help calm my nerves down. Whenever I find myself in a stressful moment, I take 10 very slow and deep breaths. In general I try and not think of anything else apart from focusing on my breathing and some pleasant positive visualisations. I would close my eyes and start to slowly take deep breaths in and out. I would think of a relaxing place or a happy moment. I focus on this thought and visualise myself in the moment. As I do that, I ask myself to describe what I see, smell, and feel. There are times the weather’s just too good to be stuck in my window-less underground office, and so I’ll take a quick step outside, sit on a bench or the lawn, and focus on my breathing. I’ll keep my eyes open and take my deep, slow breaths in and out as I am mindful of the environment around me. This exercise, which helps increase oxygen in my brain and body, has also helped keep my stress levels from increasing throughout the day.

Time out.

Deliberately scheduling breaks throughout my day was also particularly helpful for managing my stress. These mini relax times help impede the accumulating stressful moments and allow me to reset and recharge several times a day. In addition to a lunch break or tea break, I take four minutes just to pause and breathe. I let my shoulders drop and do some very gentle stretches, which allow my mind to calm down a bit.

The key realisation I found was that periodic relaxation is necessary to keep my mental health in a general positive state, and this helps me cope better when stressful moments occur during the day.

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